Will progressives cave on Biden's reconciliation bill?

President Biden and AOC.
(Image credit: Illustrated | AP Images, Getty Images, iStock)

There's an obvious way out for Democrats struggling to cobble together the votes for the more liberal reconciliation bill that is part of their two-pronged approach to infrastructure: come together and pass what they can, sending it to President Biden's desk. It will be a win for the president, a sign the party can govern with its narrow majorities, and it will let them run on infrastructure — and maybe even bipartisanship — in the midterm elections.

The question is whether progressives will go along. They were once in a similar situation with ObamaCare. The public option was a compromise for them, as they preferred something closer to Medicare for All. Then even the public option was stripped out of ObamaCare by moderates and a small number of insurance state Democrats.

Liberals briefly threatened to blow everything up. "Caucus leaders expressed absolute commitment to the idea of a robust public option, and said they expect it to be part of any health-care reform legislation," the office of then Rep. Lynn Woosley, a California Democrat who belonged to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said at the time. Without a public option, said group co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva, "we are just showering money upon money upon the same system and the same industry that got us into the mess we're in right now."

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But the alternative was no health-care bill at all. No legislative victory for a first-term Democratic president beyond a basically partisan fiscal stimulus package. And, based on what happened after the Bill and Hillary Clinton health-care plan failed to even receive a congressional vote in the 1990s, it was likely Republicans would have been able to use the legislation against them in the midterm elections while Democrats would have had nothing to show for it.

Sound familiar? The $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill is the left's compromise now, and they are again being asked to settle for even less. Back then, progressives relented. Today they are ready to run a party they are a much bigger part of now than in 2010. Their young leaders are sick of the aging, dwindling moderates. And they are still trying to pass something more ambitious than ObamaCare.

But the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the party do believe in government, and therefore governing. Do they view the GOP's Freedom Caucus, which is often more interested in stopping legislation, as a model for how to do so?

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