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Biden's budget doesn't fund everything progressives wanted, but Rep. Jayapal has hope


President Biden is sharing his vision for what Democrats should be doing over the next year. It comes in the form of a $5.8 trillion budget he sent to Congress this week. Missing from that vision are many of the policies progressive Democrats had hoped would be taken care of by now - things like universal pre-K, lower child care costs and cuts to the cost of prescription drugs. Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is a leading voice among house progressives, and she joins me now. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

SNELL: So just to start with, can you give me your top-line reaction to the president's budget?

JAYAPAL: I will say that there are many good things in the budget, from historic increases to antitrust enforcement, money for child care development, block grants, Department of Labor, many other pieces that are very good domestic investments. However, the biggest problem is the huge increase in military spending that should be spent on other investments. As far as the Build Back Better investments in child care and housing and many of those pieces, there is a reserve fund in the budget that is essentially being kept there to say we will dedicate a certain amount of money to whatever we can pass legislatively. And that, of course, is the work we're doing right now.

SNELL: Yeah, a reserve fund does give some space to do that legislation, but the budget is kind of an expression of the President's priorities, and what he put out there this week is a real contrast to the kind of big policy goals he set out to achieve last year. And that doesn't include a lot of the, you know, elements that you and your colleagues in the Progressive Caucus had been advocating for. I'm wondering, does that mean the comprehensive social spending that you would hope for doesn't have a specific path to becoming law?

JAYAPAL: I think that it's clear after the fight we had on Build Back Better we ran up against a block in the Senate. And so the Reserve Fund is a way to say let's get as much as we can done from those priorities. So I don't believe that all those priorities are dead yet. I just think we're going to still have to do a lot of work to try to get the 50 votes we need in the Senate to be able to pass as much of those priorities as we can.

SNELL: So what realistically can Democrats specifically do between now and Election Day in November to deliver on those policy promises that have already been made?

JAYAPAL: I think there are two things. One, let's pass the legislation as quickly as we can. At the same time, the Progressive Caucus has released 55 executive actions that the President can take unilaterally using his power in the White House to raise wages - things like raising the cap on the overtime threshold, which would bring tens of millions of Americans higher wages - but also expanding health care through fixing some glitches, we call them, and also canceling student debt. Those are all examples of things that will help families deal with their rising costs and will ultimately bring us more opportunity of the kind that the president has spoken about and that we all ran on as Democrats.

SNELL: I'm glad you bring up the idea of these executive actions that Democrats are pushing for. I mean, if we look back to, say, 2014 when President Obama used it and called it the pen and the phone, it was kind of an acknowledgement that Congress wasn't really going to be able to move forward in passing things into law. Is that the moment that we're in right now?

JAYAPAL: I think it's about every tool in the toolbox. Legislation is a tool. Executive action is a tool. We need to use enforcement as another tool. We need to use all the tools in our toolbox because wealth and income inequality in this country have grown so tremendously and families are suffering. You know, we've gone from a crisis to hardship, but it's still hardship for so many families, and we can't let that stand. So we've got to be able to lower costs for American families. And if gas prices are increasing, I think that there are things we can pass legislatively - I hope we do - around, you know, taxing excess profits of oil companies and giving that back to consumers. But the other way we can lower costs for families who are dealing with rising gas prices is lower the cost of childcare, lower the cost of housing. Those are things that will help families stay within the budgets that are fixed.

SNELL: Washington State Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, thank you so much for speaking with us.

JAYAPAL: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Brianna Scott
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.