WASHINGTON – When President Biden took office, he argued that a pandemic that had sparked a national crisis could foster a new consensus in Washington, easing partisan divisions and enabling the kind of transformational change that would meet a devastating time and dangerous for the country.

Pushing back the obvious divides within his own party, he proposed the biggest social agenda in a generation – a huge public works initiative to fix dilapidated infrastructure and create jobs, a cradle-to-grave welfare plan , ambitious programs to fight climate change, and tax cuts on the rich pay for everything.

He trusted his own negotiating skills as a 36-year Senate veteran, his long experience with reluctant Republican leaders, and the power of his personality and office to move him through a time of deep political polarization. .

But as his agenda was at stake in Congress this week, it was painfully clear that his assumptions had clashed head-on with the political realities of the government.

While some Republicans have backed the infrastructure plan that would allow them to celebrate construction work in their country, they have adamantly refused to embrace the reweaving of the social safety net envisioned by Mr Biden and many Democrats. And while the president’s proposals are highly regarded by the public and have strong support from the vast majority of Democrats in Congress, they have not had the unequivocal support of everyone in his party.

This has created a very bumpy path for the President’s agenda in a Congress in which Democrats have very few votes to spare in the House and a 50-50 Senate with no margin for error.

The turbulence Mr. Biden faced and his proposals showed that without a larger majority in Congress – the kind Democrats currently lack – transformational change is difficult to achieve. And without any wiggle room for defections, party divisions of the kind that have erupted in the Democratic ranks can be fatal – or, at a minimum, lead to a significant narrowing of expectations.

It’s a point Republicans have made repeatedly, and it was once again rebuffed by West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III, as he detailed his opposition to Mr. Biden’s plan and called for that it be reduced by as much as $ 2 trillion before it provides its own essential support.

“In order for them to get theirs, elect more liberals,” Manchin told Capitol Hill, saying he feared the scope of the agenda being pursued by Democrats “fundamentally changes our whole society towards a legal mindset. “.

Previous presidents who were able to complete such ambitious agendas as Mr Biden’s had much greater leeway on Capitol Hill, which Mr Biden argued on Friday as he met in deprived House Democrats at a rally for unity. Lyndon B. Johnson had qualified majorities in both houses of Congress when he passed Medicare in 1965. Even then, the process was difficult, requiring extensive lobbying by Mr. Johnson, himself a resident of longstanding Senate.

The enactment of the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration was also accomplished with much larger Democratic majorities, including a brief window in which the party held a qualified majority of 60 votes in the Senate. Even then, the path to enactment was treacherous and roundabout, forcing adjustments in the legislation that hampered its deployment and complicated coverage under the law to date.

Then as now, it was up to President Nancy Pelosi, who specializes in navigating legislation through incredibly tight political pressures, to pass the measure to enactment. But in 2010, she had a lot more leeway; despite 34 House Democrats opposing the healthcare bill, she still had enough votes to pass it.

Securing Mr. Biden’s ambitious agenda, on the other hand, will require the support of each of the 50 votes Democrats control in the Senate, and nearly all of those they control in the House.

While Mr. Manchin has been the most outspoken member of Congress in his resistance against Mr. Biden’s agenda, he has allied himself with Arizona Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has his own objections to the broad social agenda. and was also unwilling to commit to voting for the bill.

Other moderates in the House and Senate have more quietly expressed some unease about the scope and cost of the Democratic plan. Many of them are enthusiastic supporters of the infrastructure bill, which they see as much more acceptable and easier to sell to Republican support in the House and Senate.

It was the moderates’ preference for the infrastructure measure that led progressive Democrats in the House to threaten to bring down the $ 1,000 billion public works law. Their fear was that these more centrist Democrats in the House and Senate would not rally to the safety net and environmental agendas if they had already gotten much of what they wanted in the public works bill. .

Progressives have said they need to ensure the rest of the Biden agenda is implemented once the infrastructure measure is signed and viewed their ability to maintain the measure as leverage.

In the middle was Mr Biden, who sees himself as a savvy bipartisan negotiator, but whose skill in seeking compromises has not translated into an ability to forge a quick deal between warring factions within his party. In the absence of this agreement, Pelosi withdrew from the vote on the infrastructure bill on Friday. The move, which angered moderates who were ranting that she had reneged on a promise, gave those involved in the negotiations more time to find some sort of consensus and secure both the works bill. public and social policy measure on Mr. Biden’s desk.

Progressive bloc leaders were quick to point out that this was just a fragment of their fellow Democrats standing between Mr Biden and his legislative goals.

“Four percent of Democrats oppose the adoption of the president’s platform right now,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, the Washington Democrat who is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “This is the group that concerns us.”

House moderates say they want to pass a version of the social policy package, although they have raised objections to various details. And Mr Manchin, while insisting he doesn’t want to spend more than $ 1.5 trillion on this bill, laid out his goals, giving the administration hope that a process that can seeming messy for the moment would ultimately result in a measure that could become law.

“We know compromise is inevitable,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. “But the good news is that there is an agreement among most Democrats, if not all of them, that we need to do something; that we must redouble our efforts to rebuild our roads, railways and bridges; that we need to cut costs to the American people; we have to face the climate crisis.

Democratic leaders have described general legislation as essential for their party to reassure voters that the government can work for them.

New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said almost any level of spending Democrats can push through is better than no bill, making progressives unlikely to give up the legislation even if its price drops to Mr. Manchin’s preferred level. target.

Democrats also believe Mr Manchin gave them the option of matching the cost to $ 2 trillion while allowing him to claim he drastically reduced it. They see a path to victory despite the turmoil of recent days.

But in the absence of a sudden expansion in their ranks, Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders now realize that they must adjust their original legislative vision to match their actual numbers in Congress, and that any legislation that ‘they will not produce will not have the reach they hoped for when they started. .


Source link