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Why We Need a Progressive Voting Bloc

One important way progressives in the House can grow and use their power is through the use of a voting bloc. A voting bloc is a group of Members large enough to stall or stop harmful legislation by committing their votes together as part of negotiations. By creating a bloc and executing it strategically, progressives can force leadership to listen to their demands and win key victories.

Progressives hold a significant portion of the total Democratic seats in the House, including some exciting progressive freshman. In order to pass legislation, Democratic leadership needs the support of as many of their members as possible and can only afford to lose a few Members. This reality gives a progressive voting bloc the leverage they need over negotiations, as House leadership will need to gain their support to get bills through the House. But this leverage only matters if progressives use it.

Establishing The Difference Between Destructive And Constructive Disunity.

It is critical to differentiate between a destructive voting bloc (think Freedom Caucus which grew out of the Tea Party) and a constructive voting bloc (what we are building). 

The real goal is for the threat of the voting bloc to prompt meaningful consultation with and concessions to progressives before a bill or proposal is finalized. Progressives will have to use it several times to establish the legitimacy of the threat, but if it’s actually working as intended, it wouldn’t be used very often.

The voting bloc should most often be used to improve legislation, as opposed to killing it. This will ensure that members of the bloc are contributing to larger Democratic efforts and truly governing, and will also help incentivize leadership to engage rather than ignore the voting bloc.

How Will A Progressive Voting Bloc Work?

A progressive voting bloc should generally be used when progressives have exhausted other options. Using less conflictive tactics beforehand (like offering amendments during committee markups) justify the members using the bloc and establish a clear narrative of good-faith engagement. 

A progressive voting bloc should be used when a bill is being passed on a mostly partisan basis. When bills are passed mostly along partisan lines this makes progressive votes even more important. With Democratic seats lost in the House, leadership needs to win over the progressive wing in order to pass bills. This means they hold a lot of negotiating power. 

A progressive voting bloc should be used when progressives are prepared to negotiate strategically. A progressive voting bloc should generally be used when progressives have a menu of demands or other room to negotiate beyond than a single “line in the sand” demand, and most of those demands should be within or nearly within the Overton Window.

What is the Overton Window?

  • The Overton Window refers to a set of policies considered mainstream at a given time. The political feasibility of a policy depends on whether or not it falls within the Overton Window.
  • Importantly, this window isn’t stagnant and often changes. Public opinion is largely responsible for shifting the Overton Window. A lot of the work we do is to shift this window to the left so that progressive policies become mainstream.
  • One example of the Overton Window shifting is the minimum wage fight. Only a few years ago a $15 per hour minimum wage was seen as too radical, however, after a lot of grassroots mobilizing, public opinion has shifted, and the House passed the Raise the Wage Act in 2019. The $15 per hour minimum wage was once outside of the Overton Window, but progressives made it a winnable policy.