Reporter's Notebook: Progressives, moderate Dems trapped in congressional version of 'Schmigadoon!'

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Progressives and moderate Democrats are trapped in a congressional version of “Schmigadoon!”

They’re stuck together on Capitol Hill and can’t leave until they find “true love” over their $3.5 trillion social spending bill. 

Such is the case in “Schmigadoon!”

“Schmigadoon!” airs on Apple TV+. It’s a parody of the Broadway classic “Brigadoon,” the Scottish village which materializes from the mist once a century. In addition to “Brigadoon,” “Schmigadoon!” is a take on other musicals: “Oklahoma!,” “The Music Man,” “Carousel,” “Li’l Abner,” “The Sound of Music” and “Finian’s Rainbow.”

The show even describes itself as a cross between “The Walking Dead” and “Glee.” 

In “Schmigadoon!,” Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key star as a longtime couple who are OK together – but just not sure if they have found true love between themselves. They wind up in Schmigadoon! and can’t escape until they find true love. In fact, they try to walk across a stone footbridge leading out of Schmigadoon – but can’t. There are just enough deficiencies in their relationship to trap them in a never-ending musical.

And yes. The exclamation point in “Schmigadoon!” is part of the title. Just like “Oklahoma!” from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Back on Capitol Hill, left-wing lawmakers and a faction of centrists see the world through the same lens – just enough to both describe themselves as Democrats. They’re “together” when it comes to big concepts like major upgrades in infrastructure and even a substantial social spending plan. But, like some relationships, everything is not rosy once you dive below the surface.

Democratic moderates and progressives fight over specifics. Members of the Squad claim the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is “conservative” and even corrupt. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., suggested that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote the bipartisan infrastructure bill at the behest of the fossil fuel industry. Manchin counters that the $3.5 trillion bill is too much and wants a “pause” until next year. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has also raised issues about the cost.

Senate Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., questions witnesses during a hearing on 2020 census on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

This infuriated progressives.

“I don’t think we can move forward without them participating in the whole negotiation,” said Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “The whole thing has to be finished.”

Does the House vote on the infrastructure bill soon? Pelosi promised a Thursday vote over the weekend. Thursday is key because that’s when authorization for surface transportation programs expire. They are included in the infrastructure bill. But Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said a vote on that bill without the social spending package in place is unacceptable.

Pelosi knows it is likely at least 10 Republicans will vote yes on infrastructure no matter what. There are few others on the fence. A handful of additional Republicans bolted. They don’t like Pelosi “linking” infrastructure with the social spending plan. One senior Republican told Fox News that those GOPers were looking for a way to vote nay on the infrastructure package anyway.

So, as is often the case on Capitol Hill, it’s about the math. It’s about the math. It’s about the math. 

The question is if Jayapal has more than 10 of her members who will vote no on infrastructure if the social spending bill isn’t ready yet.

No one knows Jayapal’s vote-counting prowess. But historically, Pelosi can count votes precisely down to the member. Pelosi also knows if she can twist the arms of certain Democrats to vote yes at the end. In other words, “grow” the vote during the actual roll call. 

Pelosi has a track record of winning major votes by a tally or two. 

So, we’ll see if Pelosi or Jayapal can deliver. 

And do Jayapal, Sanders and liberals really want to play arsonist to the touchstone of President Biden’s domestic agenda?

President Biden signs a series of executive orders on health care in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

We still don’t know all of the specifics of the social spending bill. But Pelosi has cracked the door open that the size of the bill may have to drop to mollify moderates – just not in the House but in the Senate. 

There is particular tension among liberals and moderates right now. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., suggested that Manchin is using “Republican talking points. We obviously didn’t envision having Republicans as part of our party.”

Meantime, Jayapal is skeptical this all works out in the coming days. She doubts Pelosi brings the infrastructure bill to the floor without reconciliation ready to go. “I don’t believe it’ll come for a vote unless we get the reconciliation bill done,” said Jayapal “So I don’t think it’s impossible that it’s done by Thursday, That’s what we’re working toward and if that were to happen, then we’d be thrilled to vote for both.” 

Pelosi also appears to be putting into play a strategy she hopes will compel moderates to vote for the broader social spending bill. If the House votes on infrastructure, she can then make the case that moderates got what they wanted. Now, it’s time for moderates to take one for the team and vote for the social spending package – whatever the ultimate size may be.

So Democrats are at each other’s throats. But coming out of the Democratic Caucus meeting Monday night, you would think House Democrats were practically about to break out into a rendition of “The Age of Aquarius” from “Hair.”

In fact, “Hair” is one of the few Broadway shows not lampooned in “Schmigadoon!”

“I’m doing great,” said Pelosi. “We just had a fabulous (session). Our members are so idealistic, strategic and interested in getting results. It was a beautiful meeting. I’m so proud of them.” But so far, moderate and progressive Democrats aren’t yet ready to clasp hands and find their way across the stone footbridge.

And until they do, everyone is marooned for the time being in the congressional version of “Schmigadoon!”

The only thing they haven’t done is break out in song. 

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