All throughout President Joe Biden's first year in office, progressives clung to the hope that their constant concessions would eventually yield a massive result-if not a $6 trillion social welfare bill, or a $3.5 trillion version, or even a $1.8 trillion measure, then at least something.
But as progressives confront the possibility of nothing, Democratic leaders are introducing a new standard for Biden's legislative agenda: "Chunks."
"Honestly, it's depressing," Varshini Prakash, executive director of the progressive group Sunrise Movement, told The Daily Beast when asked about the plan to break up the massive "Build Back Better" bill into smaller, potentially more passable pieces.
Few Democrats seem particularly happy about the move. President Biden staked much of his signature proposals like the Child Tax Credit and climate solutions on passage of the original package. But at his first press conference in almost a year on Wednesday, even Biden admitted a scaled-back approach was more realistic.
"It's clear to me that we're going to have to probably break it up," he said. "Get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later."
Biden's comments are an acknowledgement of two important factors: the immovable force that is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and the political reality that moderate Democrats who are about to embark on a particularly difficult re-election cycle need something-anything-to run on.
A number of those members, dubbed "frontline members" by their party's campaign arm, have made appeals to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to break apart the popular provisions of the BBB from the rest of the package, according to the Washington Post.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Pelosi said the final version of Build Back Better may need to be more "limited"-even going as far as suggesting the bill may need to be renamed. "I'm sure that we can agree upon something significant-call it a chunk if you want."
Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX), a frontline member, told The Daily Beast passing the BBB in chunks would be better than not passing it at all. "I don't want to do it, but I think it may be necessary," he said.
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"There are some things that can be split off and pass that have, seemingly, some bipartisan support, from what I've been told," Allred added.
What Democrats do not have is time. Trying to enact the bill in "chunks" through budget reconciliation-a process that requires only 50 senators in support for passage-would take huge amounts of time during an election year. And any other option would require Republican support.
Progressives are cautious of either prospect, with many wanting to stick to a larger package that already has a foundation to build upon. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) told The Daily Beast Wednesday he thinks talks about breaking the bill up even further are "premature."
"It does a disservice to the momentum that we have to pass Build Back Better to talk about breaking it up when it appears that there's potential for additional conversations with [Manchin] to yield something significant," Jones said. "Maybe even 90 percent of what we passed in the House."
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said on Thursday her caucus remains "deeply committed" to passing a bill "that stays close to the framework originally agreed to by Senator Manchin."
The White House had previously assured they could land Manchin's support on the BBB-a promise that was tanked last month when the senator told Fox News he was unable to agree to the bill's existing framework. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Manchin signaled he's open to continuing conversations with the White House about passing BBB, but said they'll be "starting from scratch."
Mary Small, legislative director for the progressive advocacy group Indivisible, said she doubts chopping up the BBB would actually achieve better prospects for passage. If reconciliation is used, Manchin and Sinema would still need to come around to Democrats' proposals.
And for proposals pushed outside the reconciliation process, Small highly doubts Republicans would be helpful.
"Even if you could get Republicans to engage in negotiations about some of those pieces, they wouldn't be good faith negotiations…" Small said. "It would be a tactic to delay and get Democrats to waste continued political capital."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Wednesday night seemed wary of potentially counting on Republican support, too.
"We need to get as much as we can across the finish line," Warren said. "It's hard because we have the skinniest possible majority… We're not going to get one damn vote from the Republicans for childcare, for reducing the cost of prescription drugs or for making billionaire corporations pay their taxes."
"So, we've got to shoulder this by ourselves as Democrats," she added.
Then there's the matter of what to cut. If the bill is broken down into a significantly smaller package, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) warned some members will have make-or-break provisions they'll need included.
"Narrowing down a package makes sense, but it's as long as has the right components… There's just a lot of issues for different members, and every member and every vote is crucial right now," Gomez, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
"Breaking it apart too much probably won't pass," Gomez added.
Prakash argued the package had already gotten too small-and breaking it down more will do no good.
"The full Build Back Better Act was already too small to confront the different crises facing people across the country," Prakash said. "And the fact that one Senator's opinions matter more to our political process than the overwhelming majority of Americans is emblematic of how broken our government is."
As talks move forward, Small said she hopes progressives in Congress will put their foot down on further concessions for BBB, suggesting progressives have an "uncashed check" with the president.
"Biden went to the progressives and promised them that he would deliver…We look forward to them continuing to demand that President Biden deliver on the promises he made," she said.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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