Democrats’ Big Plans Shrink Amid Disunity, Implacable GOP
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s sweeping plans to expand social programs and fight climate change risk being whittled down by internal disputes among Democrats, who’ve been thwarted by Republicans on immigration, voting rights and gun control.
Meanwhile, the nation is hurtling toward a possible government shutdown and potential default on government obligations in coming weeks. With Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House, the economic fallout of either would have political consequences for Biden’s party in the midterm elections next year.
Top Democrats are seeking middle ground between the party’s moderates and progressives, who are at odds over the size and scope of the $3.5 trillion package encompassing most of Biden’s domestic agenda. With the future of his tax-and-spending plan and a separate infrastructure bill riding on party unity, leaders are seeking to lower expectations among House progressives, warning that the hefty price tag could be cut to meet moderates’ demands.
“If the Senate can’t do $3.5 trillion, we’ve got to see what they can do,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a Monday letter told all House Democrats said they “must be prepared for adjustments” to the package as Democrats resolve what can pass a Senate split 50-50 between the two parties.
The economic plan, Biden’s most ambitious legislative effort, is at a particularly difficult juncture. The president on Wednesday is set to meet in-person with numerous Democrats representing various party factions to round up support and press them to push ahead, according to a person familiar with the plans.
“I hope he has the secret sauce,” Hoyer said of Biden Tuesday night. “The president of the United States is always a very influential figure, and I know he wants both bills passed.”
Lawmakers expected to meet with Biden include Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate who has threatened to sink the economic agenda if Democrats don’t significantly reduce its size.
House and Senate Democrats still haven’t completed the expansive package that includes a mix of tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, as well as greater spending on child and elder care, health care, climate change and other areas.
Democratic leaders acknowledge plans for votes this month could be delayed.
Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona say the package is too large to garner their backing. Disunity among House Democrats is worsening and could endanger the bipartisan $550 billion infrastructure package approved this summer by the Senate.
Pelosi has promised a group of moderates they will get a Sept. 27 vote on the infrastructure bill, but progressives threaten to oppose it unless an economic package that passes their muster moves first.
“We’ve done a whip count of our members,” Jayapal said. “And we are confident that there are not sufficient votes to bring up the infrastructure bill without the reconciliation bill first.”
‘Moment of Decision’
Democratic leaders insist that, with so much at stake, lawmakers in the party are likely to come together on those bills and others before the year is over.
“I’ve been around this place for a long, long time and I’ll tell you there is a moment of decision when faced with reality that we have to decide to move forward and things happen,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said. “I hope this is one of those moments.”
Pelosi on Tuesday publicly embraced the discord in her party even as she warned her caucus to stop making public ultimatums on votes, according to a person familiar with the private meeting.
“That’s the Democratic party. That’s who we are,” Pelosi told reporters. “The beauty is in the mix.”
Fractious Democrats are up against Republicans united against almost every leading Democratic agenda item and preparing for attack in advance of next year’s high-stakes midterm elections, which will decide control of Congress.
As a result, several long-held Democratic policy goals are hitting perhaps insurmountable roadblocks.
The Senate parliamentarian on Sunday blocked Democrats from using the filibuster-proof economic package to provide legal status to as many as 8 million undocumented immigrants. There is scant hope any alternative could pass muster. The immigration proposal is unlikely to get the 10 Republican votes it would need in the Senate to move as a stand-alone bill.
That prompted immigration reform advocates to predict a Latino voter backlash if Democrats can’t find a way around obstacles -- such as overrule the parliamentarian or get rid of the filibuster.
Lorella Praeli, co-president of the group Community Change Action, told reporters there are “no brownie points” for trying.
In other signs of trouble, Senate Republicans as early as this week are expected to block for the third time this year a Democratic rewrite of U.S. voting laws. The bill is a product of a compromise between senior Democrats and Manchin, after Republicans blocked a much broader voter access bill in June and August. The bill would create an automatic voter registration system through each state’s motor vehicle agency, make Election Day a public holiday and provide at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections.
Senate Democrats have already scrapped plans to pass new rules for gun purchases after negotiations with Republicans fell apart. And talks on a bipartisan overhaul of policing practices have yet to bear fruit despite months of effort.
On the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell railed against the immigration “amnesty” plan set aside by the parliamentarian. On Tuesday he took on the $2.1 trillion in tax increases in the economic package that will help pay for the biggest expansion in social welfare programs in decades.
“Tax hike after tax hike after tax hike -- a smothering wet blanket thrown onto an economy that is already struggling to fully recover because of the inflation and worker shortages that Democrats’ policies have already unleashed,” McConnell said.
Thin Democratic majorities in both chambers give the GOP significant clout. In the House, Pelosi can’t afford to lose more than three Democrats and move any legislation if all Republicans are against it.
The filibuster remains Republicans’ most powerful tool. But in the 50-50 Senate, both Manchin and Sinema say they won’t bow to pressure to change rules that allow a minority of just 41 senators to thwart most legislation.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.