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Op-Ed

Progressive Zealots in Congress Shot Themselves in the Foot and May Not Even Realize It

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Pity progressives. In 2018, a progressive wave swept into Congress led by the so-called “squad.”

They have never known what it is like to be in the minority. They are surrounded by a young, left-leaning press and celebrity bubble that tells them they are not only right but in the majority. They now have sympathetic Democrats in charge of the House, the Senate and the presidency. They decided to go for broke.

The result? The For the People Act died in the Senate. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act died in the Senate. Amnesty died in the Senate. Corporate tax increases died in the Senate. The Equality Act died in the Senate. Filibuster reform died in the Senate. The Green New Deal died in the Senate. Reconciliation died in the Senate.

Now the progressives will kill the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which included some of what they wanted, because it is not enough. They will take no wins unless they can have all the wins. Zealots always prefer to live in hell if they can’t get heaven exactly as they want it.

Progressives demanded reconciliation be their vehicle to fundamentally transform America. While the nation excoriated Republicans in 2018, the GOP bounced back in 2020. Contrary to even polling, Republicans did well in 2020 except for the presidency and their own willingness to lose the Senate.

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Democrats expected a blue wave to expand their House majority. Instead, they nearly lost their majority and now have a single-digit majority with a 50-50 Senate. They have no mandate, but progressives know it is now or never to fundamentally transform America.

Consequently, the House and Senate have pursued a reckless spending package in the form of reconciliation. Under the rules of the Senate, reconciliation cannot add to the deficit and cannot fundamentally change public policy. As a result, Democrats must raise taxes to pay for each of their wishes, and those wishes must only expand current public policy, not create new policy.

The result is an assorted grab bag of $3.5 trillion in spending that Democrats claim will cost nothing because the federal government will not be out the money — only taxpayers.

Smokers of tobacco, who are disproportionately poor and middle-class, will see their taxes go up almost $100 billion combined. The rich will be penalized for success, but rich people in blue states will get a massive tax cut by being able to deduct all their state taxes on their federal taxes. The middle class will see increased prices as corporations pass on tax increases by raising the costs of their products.

Have progressives like AOC overplayed their hand?

In exchange, progressives would redistribute wealth even to people making upward of a quarter-million dollars a year. They would expand social welfare programs to the extent most Americans would be paid a universal basic income (without calling it that). The left would drive up prices on agricultural products in the name of fighting climate change. They would drive up fuel costs, which would impact the poor and middle class disproportionately.

But they overshot.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are two Senate Democrats who are not on board with the progressive conquest of America. They structured a bipartisan infrastructure plan that gives progressives some of what they want; however, they have blocked the reconciliation package that would give progressives the rest of what they want.

Manchin is opposed to the total $5 trillion spending binge. Sinema is opposed to the massive tax increases.

Progressives believe their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is a compromise because they compromised with themselves to reduce reconciliation from $5 trillion already. But even with the $3.5 trillion package, the bipartisan infrastructure plan is $1.5 trillion, and Congress has already spent several trillion dollars on COVID-19 relief.

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Reconciliation will eventually happen. Democrats have to raise the debt ceiling to pay for all their spending. Republicans will give no votes. Reconciliation is the only way to raise the debt ceiling. But progressives will have to get nothing and like it to make that happen.

The true believers have had their bubble burst. Zealots do outlandish things when outside forces temper their zeal. The intra-Democratic feud will be fun to watch.

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