They are getting all the attention, but liberal lawmakers’ bills aren’t getting much love from fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill, where marquee liberal legislation is struggling to gain co-sponsors.
Indeed, if the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All” are liberal litmus tests, then Democrats are failing badly.
Neither bill has won even half of the House Democratic Caucus’ support, based on sponsorship. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s environmental overhaul has 93 co-sponsors, while the health bill fares slightly better at 108 co-sponsors.
An impeachment resolution introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, languishes even further behind, with just seven co-sponsors.
Party leaders traditionally have wanted to see at least a majority of their party get behind a major bill before bringing it to the floor. For massive issues such as health care or the environment, they may want more unity still.
But the sponsors said they are happy to work the trenches and build support, saying that’s part of shaping the conversation.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and sponsor of the House version of “Medicare for All,” said the 108 people who have signed on this year is far better than results for similar bills in the past, and she is “thrilled.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, said she is excited that her Green New Deal, which had never been proposed before, is nearly keeping up with Medicare for All.
“It’s a very high amount of co-sponsors for a first piece of legislation ever, you know, in terms of my congressional career. So I’m really proud of it,” the New York Democrat told The Washington Times.
She said even without majority support within her own party, it has driven the conversation.
“It’s forced Republicans into this corner where it’s no longer politically viable for them to deny climate science as they have been,” she said. “So I think that it’s been extremely politically effective and really good at achieving our goals.”
Democratic leaders have been less kind.
They shunted Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s bill into the maw of the committee system.
Ms. Jayapal’s bill, though, earned its first hearing in a committee, something it never got when the chamber was under Republican control.
Activists called that an important milestone and said they are happy to see Democrats’ 2020 presidential candidates debating and, in many cases, embracing the big policies on the campaign trail.
But they said that is not enough.
“Traction doesn’t make change. We are hugely frustrated with Democrats and Republicans who are not yet supporting these bills,” Ryan Greenwood, director of Movement Politics for People’s Action, said in a statement to The Times.
“With the overwhelming popularity of these ideas, why are some Democrats and all Republicans in Congress not yet on board? The answer: wealthy interests that flood money into their campaigns and lobbying efforts. This is a ‘whose side are you on’ moment,” he said.
Elaine Kamarck, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Management, said the debate on health care is muddy, with many Democrats content to defend the ground on Obamacare.
She said Medicare for All and the Green New Deal need to be fleshed out more for members who are uncertain about what is in the legislation and what the ramifications would be.
“People are just going to wait and see until it becomes a reality,” she said.
Capri Cafaro, an executive in residence at American University and former state senator in Ohio, said the bills are just too liberal for moderate members.
“The reality is while progressive members are getting all of the media attention, it’s not actually the real makeup of the House caucus,” she said. “Most members are more likely to reserve their cosponsorships in an effort to put their name on something that will actually move and become law and not take the risk of being a part of a lightning rod political issue.”
She contrasted that with another liberal wish list item: raising the national minimum wage, which has 205 cosponsors in the House, including the party’s top leadership.
Ms. Cafaro and Ms. Karmack each noted by contrast that the minimum wage issue has already been won in a number of states and localities and has broad support from labor unions, a key part of the Democratic coalition.
“It’s sort of the soul of the party — people that are having trouble making ends meet because they only earn a minimum wage,” Ms. Karmack said. “Because there are many places in the country where this is just not a livable wage. It’s very popular in all regions in the country for Democrats.”
Democratic leaders have been trying to keep a lid on the flashy liberal bills, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the Democratic Caucus is far less liberal after the 2018 midterms than it seems in the press.
“We have 63 [freshman] members,” Mr. Hoyer said. “My view is that the caucus largely went to the center. We took a lot of Republican seats, we took a lot of purple seats.”
That is one reason why Mr. Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been reluctant to embrace liberal demands for impeachment.
Ms. Tlaib’s resolution of inquiry on impeachment has just seven co-sponsors. A separate bill drawing up articles of impeachment, by Rep. Brad Sherman of California, has only a single co-sponsor.
“That is something that is coming straight from Pelosi and the leadership,” Ms. Karmack said. “They want to concentrate on setting out a legislative agenda and getting things like the Violence Against Women Act passed and getting more gun control passed. It makes sense for the legislative leadership to pay attention to keeping their majority.”