Rep. Pramila Jayapal has never made any bones about the fact that her vision for economic transformation goes far beyond President Biden’s. As the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, she’s been a leading champion of Medicare for All, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a wealth tax, living wages and union rights for all workers, student debt cancellation, and many other policies left out of the president’s Build Back Better plan.
At the same time, Jayapal recognizes the potential in the BBB negotiations to win what she calls a “down payment” on that much bolder agenda. And she’s been willing to take tremendous heat to secure the biggest down payment possible.
Twice — in September and again in October — Jayapal stood up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and blocked votes on a narrow bipartisan infrastructure bill, insisting that the House approve the bill in tandem with the much bigger Build Back Better Act.
Then she upset some on the left by turning around and leading most Progressive Caucus members to vote for the bipartisan bill as a stand-alone in early November. She’d secured a verbal promise from conservative Democrats to support the BBB at a later date, but could they be trusted?
Last Friday, Jayapal’s gambit paid off when House Democrats virtually unanimously passed the Build Back Better legislation. And about those two months of delay tactics? She says they created the leverage to reinsert key provisions on paid leave, prescription drug pricing, and immigrant work visas.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Rep. David N. Cicilline, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal on the House floor after passage of the Build Back Better Act, Nov. 19, 2021. Credit: @NydiaVelazquez
In a celebratory video, Jayapal highlights several of the other significant reforms in the bill, including universal preschool, a cap on child care expenses of no more than 7 percent of income for most families, extension of the expanded child tax credit, and significant investments in home-based care, affordable housing, and clean energy jobs.
“And did I mention,” Jayapal asks, “that this is all paid for by making large corporations and the wealthiest Americans begin to pay their fair share?”
Indeed, as my fellow tax expert colleague Chuck Collins and I wrote recently, while the House bill doesn’t go as far as it should to address skyrocketing wealthy inequality, it will collect more than $1 trillion from the rich and big corporations to invest in children, seniors, and workers.
Of course it’s far too early to declare victory and go home. The Senate must pass their own version of the bill — without a single Democratic vote to spare. If they make changes, the House will need to vote once again on a final version before it heads to Biden’s desk. But the Progressive Caucus has clearly demonstrated their expanded power on Capitol Hill.