In the 2018 midterms, we saw the rise of progressives running for Congress across the country. Young and talented, firebrands like AOC and Ilhan Omar were expected to challenge the Democratic leadership in Congress. The entire point of AOC beating Joe Crowley, and other progressives running for Congress was that these people would question the current Democratic leadership.
Nobody voted for AOC to become another party loyalist. The same is true for Ilhan Omar and other progressives in Congress like Ro Khanna.
In fact, the entire progressive leadership knew the reason Trump won in 2016 – the decay in the Democratic party. The whole point of voting for progressives was to stop this decay.
Friday’s vote on the $3T coronavirus relief bill again highlighted the problems facing progressives in Congress and the rest of the country.
HEROES Vote – Who Voted For and Against?
The HEROES Act passed in the House on Friday with 208 yeas. 199 voted against the bill, fourteen of the nays coming from Democrats. Amongst the Democrats who voted against the bill, only one was a progressive – Rep Jayapal.
Jayapal earlier explained her reasons for not voting for the package. Other progressives like Ro Khanna and Ilhan Omar had also made their reservations known. They even voted no on the rules vote.
However, when it came to the vote, Khanna, Omar, AOC, Gabbard and other progressives voted with the party (nine progressives were not present for the vote in Congress).
There was more unity on the Republican side. Only one GOP lawmaker, Rep King from New York, voted against party lines and with the Democrats.
The Problems With the HEROES Act
The HEROES Act, also referred to as a coronavirus relief package has enough gore to make progressives not vote for it.
Its first problem, as pointed out by Rep Jayapal in her statement, is that it’s simply not enough. It doesn’t guarantee affordable and accessible healthcare to Americans who need it. In fact, the legislation doesn’t talk much about healthcare at all. It doesn’t ensure minority-run businesses get forgivable loans and does not safeguard pensions.
Then there is the corporate relief in the HEROES package. After conversations with the Chamber of Commerce and America’s Health Insurance Plans (the second-largest health insurance lobby in the country), Democrats provided subsidies to COBRA. The move aims to help provide relief to health insurance companies. If anyone needs a reminder, health insurance companies are some of the few American enterprises to turn a profit during the COVID-19 era.
Essentially, Democrats in Congress along with help from progressives are helping health insurance companies who just made a profit get subsidies.
If this doesn’t sound bad enough, read this. In the HEROES act, the Democrats provide lobbying groups access to small business loans.
The Democrats are essentially trying to help poor corporate-funded lobbyists during this troubled time. Progressives like AOC and Ro Khanna agreed to vote for a bill that helps lobbyists get small business loans.
Progressives in Congress – Why is There No Unity?
Nancy Pelosi made sure Democrats in the House vote for the bill and ensure its passage. Pelosi got what she needed barring a few dissenting votes.
Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader made sure Republicans vote against the bill. This is simple politics. Generally, leaders tell their party members to fall in line or face consequences.
Why don’t the progressives in the House have such unity? Why didn’t every progressive in the House vote against the bill when Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Jayapal said she wouldn’t vote for it?
It is not as if the Progressive caucus is an airy-fairy organization. It is a real caucus with two co-chairs, a caucus whip, vice-chairs, and all other positions filled. Here is the link. You can see for yourself.
Generally, a whip makes sure everybody votes according to the line taken by the caucus leader. When Jayapal, as co-chair, decided to vote against the legislation, why didn’t Ilhan Omar, the whip, make sure the rest of the progressives do the same.
The reason is simple. The progressive caucus lacks the political courage to challenge Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership. Rep Jayapal was brave enough to vote against the HEROES package, but not willing to make other progressives in the House to vote against it.
Progressives Lose a Chance to Make a Point in Congress
The progressive movement is lost if there is no unity amongst progressives in Congress. What is the point of having brilliant progressive minds in Congress if they can’t unite when it matters the most?
While the conversation during the primaries revolved around progressive ideas, it appears things are going back to normal now. The progressive caucus, disjointed and without a real leader, is too scared to vote against party lines.
The support of progressives for this legislation may not matter in the end because the Republican Senate will kill it. However, progressives once again lost an opportunity to unite as a group and hold the party leadership accountable. The country is in need of relief and this was the Democrats’ chance to pass meaningful legislation. Once again, they have blown it and progressives helped them do it.
(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons)