Swing-District Democrats Link With Progressives to Back Paycheck Bill

Source: The Intercept

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi excluded a plan to keep unemployment down by subsidizing firms to keep workers on payrolls from her relief package last week, dozens of progressives have banded together with 10 “front-line” Democrats from swing districts to introduce it as a standalone piece of legislation.

The Paycheck Recovery Act, authored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., aims to make sure that paychecks are flowing from employers to workers during the coronavirus pandemic. A previous version, the Paycheck Guarantee Act, had been a priority of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which Jayapal is a co-chair. The bill subsidizes struggling companies’ payrolls in order to discourage layoffs and keep unemployment down. While Pelosi had said she was open to considering the idea, she ultimately kept it out of the HEROES Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed by the House on Friday, which includes an extension of unemployment subsidies. Jayapal confronted her on a private caucus conference call over the decision, and Pelosi aides later pushed back, criticizing the measure for not having official legislative text or Republican co-sponsors.

Jayapal ultimately voted against the legislation, along with eight other progressives, citing the exclusion of her program. They were joined by five front-liners, some of whom objected to the paycheck measure’s omission, others of whom opposed it from the right, complaining of a lack of bipartisan buy-in.

The stampede of front-liners toward Jayapal’s new bill, according to people involved in the negotiations, is driven by an intersection of policy and electoral concerns. The front-liners are concerned that Pelosi’s rejection of the paycheck bill, and her focus on unemployment, makes for poor politics, and they have complained that they are getting hammered at home by Republicans, who are dubbing Democrats the party of unemployment.

The alliance of swing-district Democrats and the progressive wing of the party represents a new threat to House Democratic leadership’s domination of the caucus. Because of the stark partisan divide in the House, Pelosi can’t rely on the few remaining moderate Republicans to push legislation over the top. Instead, leadership typically shapes legislation to appeal to the swing-district bloc of Democrats — there are 42 front-liners who the party considers in need of electoral protection — then bludgeons progressives into supporting it, arguing that whatever is being offered is better than nothing and promotes the necessary goal of maintaining the majority, without which progressives have no power at all. Efforts by progressives to organize enough no votes to extract leverage in negotiations over coronavirus relief have so far not come to fruition, but teaming with front-liners opens up a new potential strategy as the pandemic scrambles political calculations.

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