How Progressives Triumphed in Congress

Congress is used to recognizing the power of corporate interests. For decades, their lobbyists have made promises and delivered millions of dollars to prevent Congress from hurting corporate bottom lines even though it would benefit Americans in need.

But corporate voices are no longer the loudest. With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the progressive movement has shown that it is a force to be reckoned with. After more than a year of negotiations, Democrats have delivered on the priorities they’ve campaigned on for years: lowering prescription drug and energy costs, expanding health coverage for millions of people, and taking the largest federal climate action yet while creating millions of jobs . The law will finally make the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

Progressives on and off Capitol Hill used a concerted planning strategy to deliver this victory to working Americans. The Inflation Reduction Act is not everything progressives wanted, but without the progressive organization we wouldn’t have it at all.

The recently passed legislation stems from President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda: a broad vision to meet the individual and collective challenges facing Americans. The White House’s embrace of a progressive agenda was born of decades of movement organizing and advocacy alongside paradigm-shifting presidential candidates who weren’t afraid to run on bold, transformative platforms. The original Build Back Better Act would have provided affordable housing, home care for people with disabilities, universal child care and immigrant justice. All are investments America desperately needs.

Unfortunately, more conservative forces prevailed and split the president’s agenda. The Senate passed a much smaller infrastructure deal with no clear path forward to implement the rest of Build Back Better, putting the entire economic agenda at risk. But progressives wielded unprecedented power, organized as a bloc to hold the line, and forced negotiations that produced a bill that passed the House with near-unanimous Democratic support.

Meanwhile, grassroots networks monitored the bill’s movements and alerted local activists in key districts to take action. As supporters of the bill vacillated between demands from corporate lobbyists and the needs of their constituents, activist leaders organized communities to increase pressure for them to hold the line. As Congress prepared to go into recess, constituents flooded their phones with demands for “No Vacation Without Legislation.”

When rogue business Democrats tried to kill parts of the bill, grassroots activists immediately responded with protests in the district. One such Democrat, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.), later lost his seat to a grassroots-powered challenger who channeled public outrage over his sabotage of the bill. Others, such as Rep. Kathleen Rice (D., NY), chose to retire rather than possibly meet a similar fate.

When a Senate deal emerged this summer, after months of hard work by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his staff, we celebrated. House Democrats’ determination and success in passing the Build Back Better Act allowed the Inflation Reduction Act to draw from our original legislation.

The legislation could not come at a better time. Its passage argues for what Democrats can deliver when in power and sets the stage for what a larger majority can achieve. It’s a reminder of the effort: This bill passed despite unanimous Republican opposition. Republicans voted to remove the $35-a-month insulin cap for anyone with private insurance—a chilling demonstration of their party’s dangerous, obstructionist approach to governance, and what awaits our country if they regain power.

Progressives in and out of Congress will continue to fight for crucial provisions that did not make it into the final bill: child and home care investments, housing, immigrant justice, Medicare expansion and more. We’re devastated that so much of Build Back Better was left out, but we can see how close we are to achieving the rest of the President’s economic agenda. Progressives created the legislative language and won over 99% of congressional Democrats and a large majority of the public. With just a few more Democratic senators, we can get this done.

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, we’ve proven that when America sends progressives to Congress, they organize on the inside, engage in good government, and work with colleagues to advance the Democratic agenda. Activists are not subordinate to the Democratic Party. The is the Democratic Party and they will hold their representatives accountable. With a shared vision for a fair and just future, Democrats can overcome moneyed interests and intransigent Republicans. This is how we will pass the rest of the Chairman’s agenda.

Mrs. Jayapal, a Democrat, represents Washington’s Seventh Congressional District and chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Mrs. Greenberg is co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible Project.

Wonder Land: Democrats always seem on the edge of pushing politics into a state of civil unrest. Photos: Getty Images/The Boston Globe Composite: Mark Kelly

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