Pramila Jayapal Urges Executive Action To Get Build Back Better Over the Line

Pramila Jayapal has said some goals of the Build Back Better bill, such as drug pricing and climate change, could be achieved through executive action.

The Representative for Washington, the leader of the House Progressive Caucus, rejected calls to immediately splinter off climate change elements of the much-delayed $1.75 trillion BBB package in an effort to get it passed.

Jayapal also told Newsweek that the landmark spending bill was the focus for the Democratic Party for the next few weeks, now that voting rights legislation had stalled.

She said the goal "for the next four weeks" was to get as many of BBB's goals "as we can into a bill that passes the Senate. We only get one shot because it's reconciliation that is required."

Reconciliation allows legislation to be passed with a straight majority, in this case requiring all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats in the 50:50-split upper chamber.

"It's not like you can break up the bill and have multiple bills on reconciliation. There's only one bill that's why it's all put together," she said in a phone interview this week.

Pramila Jayapal gesticulates in Seattle
Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks during an interview Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Seattle. Jayapal, who leads the Democrats' progressive caucus, has suggested that parts of the Build Back Better act could be dealt with via executive order. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

A key part of Build Back Better is a $555 billion spending plan to combat climate change, as the Biden administration looks to transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

But centrist Democrat Joe Manchin wants to cut some—but not all—climate change proposals. The Senator for West Virginia has suggested he backs those on innovation, technology and tax credits for clean technologies.

Urgency in the climate crisis has focused some minds on parceling off parts of BBB.

Senator Edward Markey, Democrat for Massachusetts, has warned, "we are running out of time," while President Joe Biden said of BBB last week, "we're going to have to probably break it up."

But Jayapal pushed back on breaking up the bill at this stage.

"Let's try to get as much done as we can in the next month," she said, "and then anything we don't get done, we'll have to look at other options."

That includes, she said, a list of "executive actions ... that mirror some of what is in the legislation."

"I don't want to imply that we can get the same thing done through executive action because it's just not true," she said, "but we can make some progress on some of the pieces, whether it's around pharmaceutical drug pricing or climate change."

Climate change is a focus for lawmakers frustrated at the hold up to Build Back Better, especially in light of recent disasters such as wildfires in Colorado and tornadoes in Kentucky.

On Tuesday, Jayapal introduced a new bill which aims to create millions of jobs for those at the frontline who rebuild homes and infrastructure destroyed by climate change-linked disasters.

The Climate Resilience Workforce Act would attach labor standards and provide training, investment and citizenship opportunities for resilience workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants and former prisoners.

Jayapal said there will be crossover between her bill and the climate provisions of Build Back Better, such as a Civilian Climate Corps and Justice 40 in which 40 percent of federal investment is committed into disadvantaged communities.

"There is no real planning of the federal government around climate resilience and climate disasters," she said. "One of the things that we would do in the bill is we would create climate resilience groups within the government."

Meanwhile, Jayapal said "the attention is going to turn back to Build Back Better for the next month" after a move to proceed voting rights legislation to prevent ballot box repression was scuppered last week.

"However, I don't want to in any way suggest that we're done with voting rights," she said.

Update 01/27/22, 9:30 a.m. ET: This article has been changed in the third paragraph to clarify Jayapal's comments that she would focus on Build Back Better but that did not mean it would take priority over voting rights legislation.