Time is no ally as Dems scrambles to finish Biden’s $ 2,000,000 bill

WASHINGTON (AP) – If President Joe Biden’s $ 2 trillion social and environmental program were a Broadway show, his seven months on the congressional stage might qualify it as a success. But legislating isn’t show business, and many Democrats fear that with the curtain falling in 2021, time will not be their friend.

With each passing day threatens to push final action back into 2022, an election year where control of Congress will be at stake and lawmakers will become increasingly reluctant to vote hard.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to end his party’s disagreements and finally get the bill through to his chamber before Christmas. Indeed, vacation deadlines are a proven way to get lawmakers to resolve disputes so they can return home. And the momentum toward approval of Biden’s main national initiative – the House passed an early draft last month – appears to strengthen the outlook.

Yet as Schumer and other Democrats express confidence that his target date will be reached, some fear it will not be and worry about the damaging consequences.

The New York senator needs time to find final compromises with moderate resistance fighters, including West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. The schedule will also be tedious but crucial with sessions on the rules with the parliamentarian of the Senate, as well as work on major bills on defense policy and the extension of government borrowing power to avoid a default. federal payment.

The longer it takes to complete the $ 2 trillion package, the more vulnerable it may be to factors – predictable and unforeseen, economic and political – that could complicate Schumer’s job.

“You let it sit here, especially after the Christmas holidays and in an election year, and it’s toxic,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Leader of her party’s progressives.

Faced with unanimous Republican opposition, Democrats will need all of their Senate votes at 50-50. They’ll also need all but three in the House, which will need to re-pass the bill with Senate revisions before sending it to Biden.

“Everyone knows we can’t get away with this. We have to do it and we have to do it as quickly as possible, ”said Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. He added emphatically: “There are different definitions of ‘as fast as possible’ from different people.”

Democrats are frustrated that every week they spend fighting against each other is reducing the time they have to sell legislative initiatives to voters. The package includes free preschool, new Medicare hearing benefits, and measures to fight climate change, largely funded by tax increases on the rich and big business.

“We should finish this so we can start talking to people about what’s in it, instead of letting everyone focus on our belly button,” said Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, have already forced cuts in legislation, which not so long ago was priced at $ 3.5 trillion. Neither has promised to heed Schumer’s Christmas calendar, and Manchin has not given up on his insistence on cutting a new paid family leave program and provisions encouraging cleaner energy.

“I made no commitment to anything, I did not commit to anything to anyone, to any human being,” Manchin said this week of the bill.

And the Democrats’ marathon talks about the measure give Republicans time to use the country’s fight with rising inflation, which shows no sign of abating, as one of their main weapons against it. The GOP argues that the $ 2 trillion bill would drive up prices by spurring a switch to cleaner fuels and pumping more money into an already overheating economy.

Democrats say the spending and tax credits in the package for health care, child care and education will help families on tight budgets cope with inflation. But the GOP is using the rising costs of gasoline and home heating, which many voters encounter on a daily basis, to help make their case. Republicans believe Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony to Congress that inflation no longer appears to be due to “transient” causes like the pandemic shows their argument will have political endurance.

“Time is definitely on the side that doesn’t want this to pass,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., A member of the GOP Senate leadership, said this week.

Manchin cited inflation fears as a justification for slowing work on the bill and reducing it, and he will undoubtedly follow the government’s next consumer price measure, scheduled for December 10. His continued insistence on change despite months of negotiation irritates his colleagues.

“I mean, God bless Joe Manchin, but how many months does this go on? Said Senate Democratic Leader No. 2 Richard Durbin of Illinois. “I mean, I said to him a month ago, ‘For God’s sake, Joe, declare victory and close the deal.'”

Another push for Democrats to complete the legislation this month is the December 31 expiration of parts of the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Congress approved in March.

This includes a larger child tax credit and monthly payments of these benefits to millions of families, which would end unless lawmakers renew them. Congress could reactivate credit retroactively next year, but many lawmakers want to avoid disruption.

Democrats have yet to resolve other disagreements, including over how to let people deduct more local and state taxes without making the provision a gift to wealthier Americans. And there are other factors that make time run.

Senatorial MP Elizabeth MacDonough needs time to decide whether any of the clauses in the bill should be deleted because it violates the chamber’s special rules for budget legislation. A Democratic plan to help millions of immigrants stay in the United States is on the line, and the process is tedious, with many back and forth between Senate aides and MacDonough.

“We’ve been talking about it and working on it for months,” said Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn. “So let’s go. “

About Mark A. Tomlin

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