Biden’s New Complicated Task: Keeping Democrats Together
Washington –President Joe Biden overcame skepticism, deep political polarization and legislative gambling to gain bipartisan Senate approval this week for his $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill.
But as the bill passes for consideration in the House alongside a $ 3.5 trillion budget that achieves the rest of Biden’s agenda, the president faces an even more complicated task. He must maintain a diverse, sometimes cranky Democratic Party behind the fragile compromises that underlie the two measures.
If Biden and the Democratic leaders in Congress hope to succeed with what they have called a two-track legislative strategy, the coming months will almost certainly be dominated by a tedious balancing act. With extremely slim majorities in Congress, Biden can’t afford many defections to a party whose membership includes moderates and progressives.
“Is it going to be easy?” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. “Absolutely not. But if the past is a prologue, we have a chance – a decent chance.”
The intra-party maneuvers began even as the Senate put the finishing touches on its overnight voting marathon that didn’t end until dawn on Wednesday. In a letter to executives, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, one of two high-level moderate senators, expressed doubts about the size of the $ 3.5 trillion package.
At the same time, progressives in the House, who have just forced the administration’s hand to revive a moratorium on evictions, have made it clear they see a time to wield power.
With no votes to spare in the Senate 50-50 and a slim margin in the House, any senator or a few representatives could deny Biden the majority he needs to pass. Knowing that they must appease everyone in their party, Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress pushed for the infrastructure and budget bills to be pursued simultaneously.
But Kyrsten Sinema, the enigmatic Arizona senator who is among the moderates of the caucus, has already announced her position, saying she cannot vote for a $ 3.5 trillion package. And on Wednesday, Manchin made it clear that he too believes the current price is too high.
“It is simply irresponsible to continue to spend at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or a Great Recession – and not an economy on the verge of overheating,” Manchin said in a statement. He urged his colleagues “to take this reality seriously as this budget process unfolds”.
Biden appeared to target moderates’ concerns on Wednesday that his plan would put too much money into the economy, saying his program was “a long-term investment” and “fiscally responsible.”
The president described the package not as an economic stimulus, but as a more substantial overhaul in support provided for child care, senior care and other aspects of American life.
“If your main concern right now is the cost of living, you must support this plan, not oppose it,” said the president.
In the House, a similar dynamic is at play, as nine centrist Democratic lawmakers this week sent Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter warning of heavy spending in the budget bill. House Democrats are expected to pass the budget resolution for a vote later this month, but holdouts have suggested they would resist a package of this size amid potentially rising inflation and debt, and the new spending that may be needed to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.
Some moderates feared that a vote for the bigger bill would cost them their seats next fall; a moderate Democrat, veteran Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, announced Tuesday he was retiring.
But House progressives took the opposite approach, saying they could not consent to passage of the bipartisan bill without the bigger package.
Representative Pramilia Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said voters gave Democrats control of Congress and the White House “not only to improve roads and bridges, but also to improve their daily lives.” We can do that by using this moment of governance to ensure that President Biden’s full agenda is delivered. “
In an appeal with the House Democratic caucus on Wednesday, Pelosi reiterated his position that the bipartisan bill and the broader package will move in tandem, according to a person who was granted anonymity to discuss the private appeal. .
“The president said he was all for the bipartisan approach: Bravo! Pelosi told lawmakers, the person said. While this is progress, she said, “It’s not the whole vision. “
Pelosi told lawmakers she was not “independent” in her approach but relied on what she called the caucus’ “consensus” position. The Senate began its recess on Wednesday but the House will return in less than two weeks.
From Biden’s plan, the package will essentially rewire the social safety net and expand the role of government in industries and livelihoods, on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon B.’s Great Society. Johnson. White House advisers are heartened by the fact that so far liberals and moderates have engaged in simple saber rattling with no red lines drawn.
Much like they did during the Senate infrastructure negotiations, Biden and senior officials will work tirelessly on the phone to appease suspicious members while understanding that both sides must publicly defend their positions. And the president is expected to travel to support the bills later this month.
“I think we’ll have enough Democrats to vote,” Biden said Tuesday. “For the Republicans who supported this bill, you have shown a lot of courage. To the Democrats who supported this bill, we can be proud.
Schumer has called a private meeting this week of Senate committee chairs who will draft what is sure to be a huge bill, giving them a September 15 deadline to produce the legislation. The house chairs were the same at work.
The majority leader acknowledged the difficult road ahead, noting the diversity of views among senators – from Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who initially proposed a more ambitious plan, nearly $ 6 trillion, to Manchin and to those in the center. But he said Democrats are united in their desire to do so.
“We have a diverse caucus, from Bernie Sanders, we have Joe Manchin and everyone in between,” Schumer said. “There are some in my caucus who might think it’s too much. Some members of my caucus believe it is too little. We’re all going to come together to do something. “
An array of progressive and pro-White House groups will aim to keep Democrats in line by spending nearly $ 100 million to promote Biden’s agenda while lawmakers are on vacation. An outside coalition of progressive organizations has launched a war room and plans to organize more than 1,000 events and actions to bomb the home districts of members of Congress with announcements – both televised and digital – in order to maintain the pressure on tracking their votes as well. to underscore much of the agenda’s popularity with the public.