WASHINGTON — Rarely have congressional leaders been asked to do so much, so little, to turn President Joe Biden’s big domestic vision into law.
Reaching for FDR-style achievements with a slimmer Democratic majority than ever has been politically difficult at best, toughest, and even more difficult for the president and his party.
Following the renewed passage of Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, Democrats are reviving his massive $1.75 trillion package to expand health, child, elderly care and climate change programs. Eager to show voters a deliverance after disappointing election results last week, the party’s congressional leaders will seek to introduce a massive bill of staunch Republican opposition in an ambitious, if ambitious, way beyond almost any other in modern American history. .
“There are no good precedents for what Democrats want to do, and I really wouldn’t be surprised to see them fail,” said Frances Lee, associate chair of the Department of Politics at Princeton University.
“I can’t think of any parallel. I mean, I can think of some big bills, but nothing that big.”
It’s not just that the package is huge – even at half its original $3.5 trillion size – Biden’s 2,135-page proposal is made up of so many far-reaching policies and programs that even That even lawmakers who support the framework have had trouble explaining all this.
And Democrats are trying to pass Biden’s big bill on their own, relying on their fragile grip on Congress to push it past the opposition that Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and other modern presidents didn’t have to contend with.
Congress has not been divided so narrowly in 20 years, with Democratic margins of only a few seats in the House and a rare 50-50 split Senate. This has given rise to new political power centres. Progressives, centrists and even the power centers of one senator – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin or Arizona’s Kirsten Cinema – have all wielded massive influence to determine the terms of a deal and the schedule of votes.
While Friday night’s infrastructure bill enjoyed Republican support in the House and previously the Senate, a rare bipartisan agreement, it would not be a case to proceed on the “Build Back Better Act” that was a slew of promises from Biden’s presidential campaign. There is resonance.
“The question is: Can I get all those votes? It’s a process,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Saturday as he celebrated the passage of a bill and accepted the challenge in the coming days and weeks. did.
“You didn’t believe we could do any of this. And I don’t blame you,” he told the press, as well as American voters, to watch. “Because you look at the facts, you wonder, ‘How would it happen?'”
Roosevelt began his New Deal program early in his first term in the midst of the Great Depression, his landslide election that increased the Democratic hold on Congress to more than 300 members at the start of his presidency. Johnson’s Great Society bill benefited from a similarly large Democratic majority in Congress. He had about 300 House Democrats in 1965.
And, unlike today, both earlier administrations were able to garner crossover support from minority-party Republicans for some aspects of their agendas.
“We no longer have a landslide,” said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University and a congressional expert. “So the demand for the government to do something was much bigger than it is today.”
While Republican Ronald Reagan also enlisted help from Democrats for a balanced budget bill in 1981, today’s locked-in partisanship divides the country along geographic, cultural, and political lines, leaving more recent administrations to go it alone. are given.
Barack Obama turned the Affordable Care Act into law on party-line votes with a huge margin—the Democrats at one point had 60 members in the Senate—which initially allowed his party to overcome Republican filibusters. Final passage of the bill, however, known as Obamacare, relies on a similar filibuster-dodging budget reconciliation process that Biden is using.
Donald Trump failed to repeal Obamacare when Republicans took control of Congress in his first year as president, but through GOP tax changes with the same majority-only budget process on a party-line vote in late 2017. driven party.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is determined to move forward with some votes on Biden’s big bill after lawmakers return next Monday.
“We must, as John Lewis said, ‘keep our eyes on the prize,'” Pelosi wrote in a letter to aides late Sunday, calling for the late congressman and civil rights leader.
Already, centrist Democrats in the House have indicated their reluctance, while progressives have indicated a willingness to give at least some ground.
The Senate area is even more dangerous. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is the first party leader in some two decades to navigate a 50-50 split that is now an entirely different era that produces self-styled Mavericks and zero crossover votes.
From climate change provisions to the new paid family vacation program, Munchkin will almost certainly still exercise his power to do what he doesn’t like. And in an equally divided chamber, any senator can make demands before they vote. Others certainly will.
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday revived his attack on Biden’s bill as a “reckless tax and spending” spree. He has argued that Biden was not chosen with the mandate for his proposals.
“I don’t think the American people are interested in looking at this any further,” McConnell said at a stop in Kentucky.
Princeton political science professor Lee said if Democrats are able to pass Biden’s bill it would be a great achievement. And if they don’t there will be “much scuffles and anger” from the party’s base of supporters.
All that said, “people should know that what they’re trying to do is really a high wire act.”