Bitterness escalates as Democrats try to push through Biden’s economic agenda again

The Liberal Democrats have undeniably left their mark on Washington by refusing to give in to the moderates and blocking a bipartisan $ 1.2 infrastructure plan without getting in return social spending and a $ 3.5 trillion climate bill. And Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona maintained their moderate line against the wing of their party embodied by Socialist Democratic Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, using the extraordinary power of their unique votes in a Senate. at 50-50.

Still, the confrontation raised new doubts about the fate of Biden’s program. And Sunday’s political talk shows, meanwhile, served to show how far the party is from forging a common path in the days to come. The turn for some progressive activists after last week’s late night and the rare challenge from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is that the showdown saved Biden’s larger agenda ambition by keeping the commitment from moderates who want the infrastructure plan to be adopted as soon as possible.

That may be true, but it has also deepened mistrust within the Democratic House caucus and sowed bitterness between the left on one side of Capitol Hill and Senate moderates, which will make it difficult to resolve the issue. struggle.

For Americans who aren’t Beltway journalists or liberal activists who rely on Twitter, Democratic internal struggles risk becoming a typical Washington dysfunction ahead of next year’s midterm elections, as Democrats attempt already to reverse a historical disadvantage.

As party leaders regroup after last week’s political recriminations, the most important questions remain unanswered. What will be the size of the overall dollar expense? What will it contain? And when will Biden’s double boom in infrastructure and social spending finally become law?

Progressives reluctantly agreed to a funding package for home health care for the sick and the elderly, dental and hearing benefits for the elderly, free preschool and community colleges, and climate change mitigation. will need to descend from the $ 3.5 trillion level – already far below their initial $ 6 trillion offer. But there is still no clear agreement on whether Manchin will agree to exceed his own cap of $ 1.5 trillion. A bill valued at around $ 2 trillion, a figure Biden raised in a meeting with Capitol Hill Democrats on Friday, according to CNN, will mean painful choices for progressives between competing priorities.

Back from the edge

Massive legislation is rarely passed in Washington without near-catastrophe. The prospect of failure is often the only thing that pushes warring factions to compromise. And even a reduced and final combined infrastructure and social spending of $ 3 trillion – following a previous $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that reduced poverty – would still represent an impressive list of national achievements for Biden’s first year in office. It would also count as a validation measure for two presidential campaigns by Sanders, an independent who caucused with Senate Democrats, who helped steer the Democratic Party away from centrist incrementalism.

Still, the idea that Democrats have plenty of time is perilous. Serious illness or death in their ranks in the Senate could, in certain circumstances, deprive the party of a majority to enact the spending bill under the filibuster-defying reconciliation mechanism and therefore leave the measure of infrastructure – which vulnerable House Democrats are eager to brag about back home – abandoned in their bedroom. And until the spending bill passes, Democrats will wonder if they’re trying to go too far, given tiny minorities in the House and Senate who don’t suggest a mandate for radical change. .

As Republicans hold the economy hostage by refusing to help raise the debt ceiling before the mid-October deadline and Democrats struggle to use their power effectively, the White House is at risk of suffering more damage after a difficult summer.
While the vicious resurgence of the pandemic in recent months has been primarily caused by factors beyond Biden’s control – including the Conservatives’ reluctance to get vaccinated or adopt masking precautions – it still pays a political price for it. fierce battle against the virus and the punitive economic consequences it leaves in its wake. The United States crossed 700,000 deaths on Friday and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the “safest way to celebrate” the holidays “is virtually” – a reminder that the virus is still here.
Outside Washington, given rising gas, energy and commodity prices – bacon, for example, is more expensive than it has been in 40 years – the Democrats wrangling might appear self-centered. In turn, this could threaten the integrity of the central purpose of the Biden administration – to prove that the government can work to resolve the struggles of ordinary people.

The stakes for Democrats are high and far higher than next year’s midterm elections, in which history suggests they are already facing a difficult time with the president’s party traditionally losing seats. . Chaos, disillusionment with Washington and dysfunction can only reinforce this country’s internal political estrangement and contribute to the establishment’s sense of failure and illegitimacy that a growing ex-president more authoritarian, Donald Trump, is trying to bring back to power, with large elements of the GOP.

Still not agree on the size of the package

There were few signs over the weekend that frank battles within the Democratic ranks that forced Pelosi to withdraw a vote on the infrastructure measure had caused major players to cross their hands.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, admitted that the figure of $ 3.5 trillion for all expenses was now out of reach, but rejected the limit. of Manchin’s $ 1.5 trillion, to which he subscribed. for weeks and reiterated publicly last week. Jayapal, who represents a district in Washington state, declined to say whether $ 2 trillion was too low for the spending envelope, but when asked about the Manchin threshold, she said. replied: “It will not happen”.

“It’s going to be somewhere between 1.5 (trillion) and 3.5 (trillion). And I think the White House is working on it right now,” Jayapal told Dana Bash.

Democrats have a numbers problem
She drew another line on Sunday when she said she would not support a package that included the Hyde Amendment – which bans most federal funding for abortions – something Manchin said last week was needed to ensure that ‘he has his support.

Sanders, meanwhile, rebuffed the idea that Biden was assuming the eventual expense bill would be around $ 2 trillion. “What he said is that it’s going to take give and take on both sides. I’m not sure he came up with a specific number,” said Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on NBC’s “Meet” show. the press. “

The Vermont Independent also stepped up pressure on Sinema, after the Arizona senator issued a statement condemning progressives for taking the infrastructure bill hostage and complaining that party leaders chose ignore the clear and long-term differences on the spending bill.

“I think the people of Arizona are starting to get up and show some impatience over there and say you know, senator, join the team here, let’s do something about reconciliation,” Sanders said on NBC.

Should Biden do more?

Such divisions will bring to light the role of the president.

Biden, a half-century veteran of negotiating deals in Washington, spent hours meeting and speaking with lawmakers last week as party leaders on Capitol Hill sought to forge a compromise. But he did not make a strong public offer to move the talks forward, raising questions about his role.

On the one hand, Biden’s decision not to try to coerce the progressive wing of the party allowed the group to savor a moment of victory that could provide political cover for a compromise. And Biden’s decision not to publicly break with Manchin has preserved a relationship that will be crucial to any attempt to get the West Virginia senator to raise his sticker price for the spending bill. But the fact that the president is now planning to visit Michigan on Tuesday to boost support for the infrastructure bill and spending plan may be a sign the White House understands it needs to be more forceful in public.

One of the curiosities of the fight between rival Democrats over the infrastructure bill and the spending plan known as the “Build Back Better” agenda is that the tactics of the debate have tended to attract more money. Be careful as massively ambitious spending on health, education, jobs, climate creation and mitigation designed to reshape the economy to alleviate the plight of American workers.

A closer focus on program outcomes – and funding them through tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations – can not only help build bridges between suspicious Democrats, but could be vital in selling voters the benefits. steps if they end up happening.

Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell, a member of both the centrist and bipartisan problem-solving caucus and the progressive congressional caucus, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Saturday that a week of testing had brought some clarity to Democrats and highlighted the challenges they face.

“As everyone runs into chaos, I think what finally happened at the end of the week was it became clear exactly what the president wants. We know where we are at. with the reality of two senators who will … agree on certain things, even if we have to keep them at the table.

“Democrats believe that failure is not an option. And it is not. We must act for the American people.”

About Mark A. Tomlin

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