Progressive climate activists are mounting a six-figure pressure campaign against Hawaii Rep. Ed Case, a conservative Democrat who tried to stall President Joe Biden’s budget reconciliation package.
The initiative, spearheaded by the new political nonprofit Our Hawaii Action and composed of direct mail items, radio spots and digital ads, is the latest in a series of efforts by activists on the left to whip up political momentum in favor of the boldest possible suite of spending bills.
Our Hawaii Action’s work is part of a wave of progressive advocacy that is unique both because it was missing in the early years of the Obama administration, and because it speaks to an unlikely alliance between the White House and groups that supported Biden’s rivals during the 2020 presidential primary.
“Ed Case isn’t just threatening to tank Joe Biden’s presidency, he is impeding opportunity for all of Hawaii’s working families,” said Kaniela Ing, climate justice campaign director for the progressive group People’s Action and a co-founder of Our Hawaii Action.
Ing said he is motivated by fear of the effects of catastrophic climate change, which the reconciliation package is expected to address with far more ambitious measures than a bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed in August and that awaits approval in the House.
“The science says this could be our only chance to avoid climate catastrophe, and the heck if I’m letting my two kids live in a world riddled with even more floods, fires, war and instability,” Ing said.
Our Hawaii Action, also co-founded by Sunrise Movement political director Evan Weber, is funded by the Green New Deal Network, a consortium of progressive groups mobilizing grassroots activism across the country for ambitious climate action.
Our Hawaii Action is spending $130,000 on radio spots, direct mail items and placards for activists who picket Case or engage in other demonstrations. In contrast with television, the use of radio and mail enables the group to narrowly target Case’s constituents in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District on part of the island of Oahu.
“Rep. Ed Case is proposing cuts that could tank Joe Biden’s presidency and cost Hawaii billions,” Ing says in a radio ad that he narrated. “Tell Ed Case: ‘No more cuts. No more reckless games. Pass the bill already.’”
The Green New Deal Network is also spending another $25,000 on digital ads pressing Case as part of its national digital advertising campaign.
Those sums are not insignificant in a state like Hawaii. Thus far this election cycle, Case has raised less than $100,000.
Although some conservative Democrats in the Senate such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin cannot be replaced by more progressive candidates, the resistance to Biden’s agenda in the House largely comes from conservative Democrats in safe seats who are major recipients of corporate donations.
Case, one of nine conservative Democrats who threatened to withhold support for Biden’s budget in August, is no exception. Biden defeated Trump in Hawaii’s 1st by nearly 30 percentage points.
Ing lost a congressional primary to Case in 2018, but says he now considers Case a friend. He hinted, however, at the possibility of leftward pressure on Case continuing as the 2022 election cycle heats up.
“Our efforts could swiftly turn into ‘thank yous’ if [Case] does the right thing — or they could drag on through 2022,” Ing said.
The advertising campaign in Hawaii follows announcements of other progressive pressure campaigns in other parts of the country.
In Glen Rock, New Jersey, members of the Working Families Party, Our Revolution, Indivisible and other groups held a demonstration on Monday outside of Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s district office.
“We are fighting corporate Democrats like Rep. Gottheimer who are hellbent on tanking the most transformational legislation to happen in America in decades, and that is unacceptable,” Anna-Marta Visky, Our Revolution’s northeast organizing coordinator, told the group of protesters outside Gottheimer’s office.
In August, Gottheimer led a group of conservative Democrats, including Case, in demanding that the less progressive, bipartisan infrastructure bill get a vote before the reconciliation package. The group also indicated that they oppose some of the reconciliation package’s tax and spending priorities.
The conservative Democrats’ resistance resulted in a brief showdown as the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sought to corral the votes needed to begin the budget drafting process that enables Congress to author the individual bills that would become the reconciliation package. Pelosi ended up promising the group that the bipartisan bill would get a vote in late September in order to proceed with the budget process.
The Working Families Party also announced on Monday that it is spending $100,000 on a 15-second TV ad blasting Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who is opposed to the $3.5-trillion reconciliation package in its current form.
Sinema has warned the White House that she will not vote for the reconciliation package if the House delays its planned Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. (Sinema, one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats, helped negotiate the latter bill.)
Sinema has also expressed concerns about the prescription drug price negotiation bill that Democrats plan to include in the reconciliation package. The savings achieved by empowering the federal government to negotiate lower prices for select drugs covered by Medicare are intended to finance other priorities in the reconciliation package, such as the expansion of Medicare to cover dental and vision benefits, an extension of the child tax credit, the establishment of paid family leave and universal preschool, and the creation of a climate conservation corps, which would create jobs building renewable energy infrastructure.
For progressives ― and many moderate Democrats in swing seats ― the success of Biden’s presidency rests on his ability to achieve many of the things in the proposed reconciliation package.
In fact, a group of moderate Democrats in “frontline” districts ― seats that the party sees as vulnerable to a Republican takeover ― wrote a letter to Democratic leaders in July asking them to include a strong prescription drug bill in the final reconciliation package in order to help Democrats maintain their narrow majority in the House.
And moderate Democrats in the House Education and Labor Committee teamed up with progressive colleagues to eliminate means-testing on a bill creating a child care subsidy for American families.
By contrast, Case’s “politics are way off here and the stakes are too high,” Ing said.
With a three-person majority in the House and a 50-50 tie in the Senate, Democrats can hardly afford to lose a single Democratic vote on any legislation that lacks Republican support.
That balancing act gives conservative Democrats enormous leverage to shape the final product, but has also prompted progressives to threaten their support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill if a watered-down reconciliation package is not to their liking.
Conservative Democrats likely have the upper hand, however, since they claim they are content to let the reconciliation package die on the vine, and they may have enough Republican votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package without progressive support.
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