Congressional Democrats appear to be circling the wagons and shooting inward. Their recent behavior is outrageous, worthy only of a schoolyard brawl, the result of which is far less tasty than a well-made legislative sausage.
Many newly elected members of Congress coming from gerrymandered safe blue districts have never been in charge and don’t understand the risks of ideological purity. The fundamental problem is that President Biden is trying to push forward a transformational legislative agenda with just a wafer-thin majority. During the New Deal, Democrats controlled more than 60 percent of the Senate and 70 percent of the House, helping Franklin Roosevelt mightily. Even President Obama had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in his first term and a double-digit advantage in the House. The Democrats are largely united, but their control of both branches is so slim that a handful of individuals who previously could have been ignored now control the balance of power.
Legislating is about compromise, and that seems not to be part of their modus operandi. Two self-styled “centrists” in the Senate are blocking everything meaningful from voter protection to the climate and educational investments in the President’s agenda. And the self-styled “progressives” in the House are blocking desperately needed bipartisan infrastructure investments unless they get exactly what they want – and how they want it – in the so-called Reconciliation Budget. Their obduracy could tank both deals.
If this blows up in their faces, it’s the people of this country who will suffer, first from lack of needed services, second from the loss of the House and/or the Senate in 2022 to Trump acolytes, and possibly even the Presidency in 2024. It seems that those who really deserve to be “primaried” are Arizona prima donna Kyrsten Sinema and those self-styled progressives in the House who are being anything but enlightened.
I don’t fault President Biden for not publicly pressuring his colleagues. His long experience in the Senate makes him acutely aware that Senators and Representatives don’t like to be hectored by the President of either party. But I do fault him and his White House team for failing to harness public opinion and tell the American people exactly what is included in the Build Back America agenda and legislative package. If you want to finger someone to blame, blame the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the hot shot political consultants who put up Cal Cunningham for Senate in North Carolina, who lost an easily winnable seat because of a sex scandal. They also screwed up with ineffective campaigns against Joni Ernst in Iowa and Susan Collins in Maine. Think of the millions wasted on Amy McGrath’s quixotic challenge to Mitch McConnell in Kentucky instead of targeting more winnable House races.
There’s always a certain amount of grandstanding where there are key differences among the parties to a negotiation. We saw that this week in the resistance to passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open in the face of Republicans refusal to raise the debt ceiling. That went down to the very end of the federal fiscal year, when the C.R. was passed. Good until December. Then it will be rinse and repeat.
But, in the case of the Senate-passed bipartisan (hard) infrastructure bill and the Reconciliation Budget’s “human infrastructure” bill that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refuse to support in the form and amount the progressives are pushing, there’s a valid concern that there’s no give on either side. Clearly there must be on both sides.
The $3.5 trillion cost of the Reconciliation Budget (including fairer – slightly more – taxes on the richest) is spread out over ten years. Proponents have done a poor job of talking about what is in that bill, many parts of which have broad support among the general public. Let’s accept that that steep price tag won’t find approval. But, dear Senators and Representatives, please figure out what will work. That’s what you are sent to Washington to do. It’s your damned job.