Progressives Win Round One in Human Infrastructure Showdown

Interview with William Rivers Pitt, senior editor and lead columnist with Truthout.org, conducted by Scott Harris

Last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would vote on the Senate’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 30, but leaders of the 95-member House progressive caucus in the House warned that unless the original deal was honored to link the bipartisan bill and the larger $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill together, enough of their members would vote to kill the bill favored by conservative Democrats. Progressives feared that if the bipartisan bill was passed separately, they would lose any leverage they had to pass President Biden’s popular “Build Back Better” plan.  In the end, Biden backed the progressives’ call for the two bills to proceed together, and House Speaker Pelosi delayed the planned vote until Oct. 31.

But while progressives won this round in the infrastructure fight, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krystin Sinema of Arizona have staked out positions opposing the $3.5 trillion bill — spent over 10 years — that requires all Democrats’ support in the reconciliation process bypassing a Republican filibuster. The reality of an evenly spilt Senate now requires all sides to engage in difficult negotiations to arrive at a lower price tag to win passage.

While Joe Manchin has stated his bottom line is $1.5 trillion for the bill, President Biden has floated the figure of $2.1 trillion, and expressed optimism that Democrats would reach an agreement to pass both infrastructure packages no matter how long it might take. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with William Rivers Pitt, senior editor and lead columnist with Truthout.org, who discusses the progressive caucus victory in the House and the corporate media’s spin on coverage of the debate.

WILLIAM RIVERS PITT: President Biden came down the mountain and to my personal great surprise, joined forces with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to make sure that the infrastructure bill remains coupled with what the Build Back Better Act, which is the human infrastructure bill. Making sure that the first is connected to the second is how the second survives at all, because, they love to call them “moderates,” but they’re conservative Democrats and they’re from conservative Democratic districts. And they were for 2018 and 2019 Nancy Pelosi’s most favorite garden and these people turned on their own party. This is worth underscoring. The very people that Nancy Pelosi spent so much time defending and protecting, particularly through the impeachment are the ones who try to blow up what IS the Democratic party agenda, mainly because they are feeding off of massive amounts of pharmaceutical and medical industry dollars.

President Biden showed up at the 11th hour and demanded that these two bills be passed basically simultaneously and that the Build Back Better Act be passed first before the infrastructure bill. The infrastructure bill has already passed the Senate and it passed like 68 to something. All of these “moderate” Democrats are desperate to have the infrastructure bill passed because it allows them to go back to their districts and say, “Look bipartisanship. I voted with the Republicans. You can vote for me and it’s okay. And I’m not a socialist, whatever, whatever.”

Nancy Pelosi, last Monday, caved into the pressure that was being put upon her by people like Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and this cohort of pharmaceutical Dems and set the vote for Thursday. The Congressional Progressive Caucus had vowed to vote it down and put somewhere between 20 — it’s hard to get the number right — but somewhere between 25 and 40 “no” votes were on the table. So she ended up having to pull the vote on Thursday. President Biden showed up and sided with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The entire vote got punted to Halloween. And in the meantime, they’re going to have time to finish drafting the Build Back Better Act with a number that Joe Manchin now has said he’s finally willing to agree with after weeks and weeks of grinding teeth, the actual negotiations can actually begin.

SCOTT HARRIS: In your recent story titled, “Corporate Media Wants You to Think Biden Lost to Progressives on Infrastructure.” You emphasize the fact that the corporate media has really spun this story in such a way that many people reading or watching the coverage will take away the distorted view that somehow these wild-eyed radicals, that progressives in the House and Senate were out to hurt Joe Biden and his agenda, when in fact that $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill WAS Joe Biden’s agenda.

WILLIAM RIVERS PITT: When the president of the United States comes down the mountain and goes to Capitol Hill and lays his hand on the shoulder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and says, “I’m with you,” how these people thought that they could spin that into the Congressional Progressive Caucus is destroying the president’s agenda, it’s miraculous thinking — give points for trying, I suppose.

SCOTT HARRIS: In your recent article, you focus on the coverage of the Washington Post and Politico actually juxtaposing the advertisements for Big Pharma, right on the same pages as these articles.

WILLIAM RIVERS PITT: Yes, it’s a little button. These guys may as well be walking around wearing signs. Politico, the Post did it, it was their pulse, their Weekend Big Breakdown. And it gets to the first paragraph where it tells you why the progressive caucus is awful and everything they’re doing is terrible. And then there’s this little icon button for PHRMA, which is the Medical Research Association of America, one of the largest lobbying groups for the pharmaceutical and medical industry that’s out there. And it’s right there underneath the first paragraph. The second article, the one from the day before, was brought to us by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Although by the time we went to publication, that advertisement had changed to Amazon because David Sirota and his fantastic people over at the Daily Poster had underscored the fact that these, you know, flagrant, flagrant pro-pharmaceutical industry articles were out there.

So they went and they changed the ad to Amazon, which I’m not going to say if that’s better or worse, but it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the argument at present. You spend so much time in this job beating the bushes trying to get the actual information free from manipulation and money. And they spend so much time covering their tracks. And then an enormous piece of legislation like the Build Back Better Act comes down the pike and actually reaches the point where it is trembling on the verge of being reality. And they’ve broken cover. They’re not even camouflaging themselves anymore.

For more information, visit Truthout.org.

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