After Senator Joe Manchin delivered the likely death blow to Build Back Better, House progressives responded alternately by declaring him a liar, proceeding as if negotiations were ongoing, and calling on President Biden to enact an unspecified series of executive actions.
The call for executive action is seen as a Plan B to achieve the same results by bypassing the normal legislative process. In reality, it’s a way to try to put pressure on Manchin and keep the legislative path alive.
If you read Representative Pramila Jayapal’s Washington Post op-ed closely, however, it’s pretty clear this is a big bluff by progressives. In her piece, Jayapal makes the standard pitch for the radical spending package (laughably, she now tries to argue that the spread of Omicron brings a renewed urgency to pass the bill).
She eventually writes, “We are calling on the president to use executive action to immediately improve people’s lives. Taking executive action will also make clear to those who hinder Build Back Better that the White House and Democrats will deliver for Americans. The [Congressional Progressive Caucus] will soon release a plan for these actions, including lowering costs, protecting the health of every family, and showing the world that the United States is serious about our leadership on climate action.”
Reading the fine print, it’s pretty clear that there are no executive actions available that would be the equivalent of Congress’s authorizing trillions of dollars in spending and new government programs. Progressives could call for various actions related to green energy or drug costs. But the reality is that if the action is legal, it is not likely to come anywhere near what Build Back Better was trying to do. And if it actually approximates Build Back Better, it can in no way be constitutional.
If it were simple for Biden to somehow enact his entire agenda with the stroke of a pen, Democrats would not have wasted months trying to pass something into law.
It is ironic, however, that as much as progressives like to talk about the need to protect democracy, they are awfully quick to jump toward doing things unilaterally when they don’t have the votes to pass their agenda.
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