Joe Biden’s Legislative Agenda Is About To Grind To A Halt

Joe Biden and top members of his administration are fanning out across the country this week to tout his first major legislative accomplishment: a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package stuffed with progressive priorities like $1,400 direct payments and a boosted child tax credit that is expected to cut child poverty in half. 

The victory lap, called the “Help is Here” tour, is meant to educate the public on the benefits of the law and continue to build support for the measure. Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, and members of Biden’s Cabinet are all scheduled to participate in the multistate tour. 

But the passage of the American Rescue Plan ― which was made possible entirely with Democratic votes ― may be the Biden administration’s high water mark, at least when it comes to enacting legislation.

Going forward, Biden will need to convince at least 10 Republicans to join him in overcoming a filibuster to advance his agenda in the Senate on contentious issues such as immigration reform, gun control, climate, voting, jobs and infrastructure.

The special budget procedure that allowed Democrats to pass the coronavirus relief package with a simple majority is available to them once more this year. The process, known as reconciliation, is limited and can only be used for measures affecting spending and revenue. An infrastructure and jobs package would fit those constraints, but not much else on Biden’s broad agenda. 

The practical effect of hunting for Republican support on infrastructure is a much smaller package that makes some basic investments in roads, bridges and waterways without taking any steps to address climate change.

Several Democrats, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, have expressed a desire to find bipartisan agreement on infrastructure before moving quickly to another reconciliation bill. The idea of overhauling the nation’s aging infrastructure has support on both sides of the aisle, so theoretically, Democrats may be able to find a few Republicans to join them.

But getting to 60 votes for a broad package ― especially one as large as Biden proposed during the campaign ― will be a herculean task. Republicans are unlikely to support another multitrillion-dollar bill that includes progressive priorities such as renewable energy investments and clean energy standards. They’re also almost certain to oppose tax increases on the wealthy to pay for it.

“I’m hoping they’ll get involved to the point to where we have 10 of them that’ll work with 50 of us, or 15 of them that’ll work with 45 of us,” Manchin said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about the prospect of bipartisanship.

At least one GOP senator has expressed interest in working with the Biden administration on an infrastructure package: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. But even she isn’t expected to back a $2 trillion bill, as Biden proposed during the 2020 presidential campaign. 

“Although I’m obviously more conservative than the president … we have a lot of goals in common, and the infrastructure package is certainly one of them, so I look forward to continuing to work with this administration,” Collins told reporters last week.

The practical effect of hunting for Republican support is a much smaller infrastructure package that makes some basic investments in roads, bridges and waterways without taking any steps to address climate change. Democrats may ultimately decide to go it alone via reconciliation to pass a bill they want, but doing so will require convincing centrist Democrats like Manchin and Casey to pull the plug on bipartisan talks that could take months. 

House Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t waiting on the Senate to reach a compromise. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) instructed committee chairs last week to begin drafting a “big, bold and transformational infrastructure package” alongside their Republican counterparts. 

“Building roads and bridges and water supply systems and the rest has always been bipartisan … except when they oppose it with a Democratic president, as they did under President Obama, and we had to shrink the package,” Pelosi said Sunday in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

“But, nonetheless, hopefully, we will have bipartisanship,” she added.

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