Democrats argue. But Biden’s wish list has traction
While pursuing his $ 4 trillion domestic spending wish list, President Biden faced much more than the Republican opposition. He finds himself wedged between two wings of his own party: progressives, who want the federal programs to expand as much as possible, and moderates, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who insist that legislation should be the product of bipartisan compromise.
Biden wanted both. And on his first major project, an infrastructure bill, after weeks of haggling, he actually managed to get a deal with the Republicans.
The problem was it cut its original proposal from $ 2 trillion to just $ 579 billion in new spending, and that didn’t go well with progressives. They responded by staging a near-revolt and threatening to reject their own president’s infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives.
After hectic negotiations among the Democrats, the break was covered over last week. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) promised her rebellious progressives that the infrastructure bill would not be their only chance to vote for new spending, and that a draft budget this fall will include the rest of their wish-list. That seemed to soothe her for the time being.
“We are moving forward,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairperson, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “We won’t get everything we want … [but] we get a substantial investment. “
None of this can be fun for Biden, but he actually has something to celebrate. Almost lost in the power struggles was a remarkable fact: apart from the party struggles, the president seems increasingly likely to push through an increase in domestic spending of at least a trillion dollars, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Even moderate Democrats appear to have accepted the premise that the federal government‘s success in fighting COVID-19 and boosting the economy has made the big government more popular than it has since World War II.
Manchin, a fiscal hawk in his party, said last week: “There is a lot of need out there, whether it is about tax breaks for children, whether it is about giving children a start in life, whether it is about fixing many problems human infrastructure that has fallen by the wayside. … for that I am whole. To what degree? We’ll see what we can pay for. “He said he could support” $ 1 trillion or $ 1.5 trillion or $ 2 trillion “as long as it is not paid for with credit.
By comparison, when President Obama passed a stimulus bill in 2009 to mitigate the effects of the Great Recession, he urged his staff to keep the price below $ 1 trillion as moderate Democrats flinched at the number.
Under Biden, Congress passed a $ 1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in March. Last year, under its predecessor Donald Trump, Congress passed a COVID bill that reached more than $ 2 trillion.
Earlier this year, Biden proposed a $ 2.2 trillion job and infrastructure plan and a $ 1.9 trillion package focused on education, childcare, housing, and other household programs, about 4 in total Trillion dollars.
This month, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, came up with the idea of combining these plans with a major expansion of Medicare to create a package that would run to about $ 6 trillion.
The taboo against large numbers seems to have disappeared.
Political scientists might describe this as a shift in the “overton window,” the range of political ideas that politicians believe are workable. The theorem is named after Joseph Overton, a conservative scholar who developed it in the 1990s.
“I think the progressive movement moved that Overton window,” said Jayapal. “I think it’s an important moment.”
Another member of the Progressive Group, Representative Katie Porter of Irvine, provided an example.
“We’re talking now about things that families need … that maybe 10 or 20 years ago people said, ‘This is just too expensive,'” she told me. “We are talking about childcare, in which our federal government last made a large and well-considered investment during World War II.”
The battles for Biden are of course not over yet. Manchin’s $ 1 trillion or $ 2 trillion is a long way from the President’s $ 4 trillion, not to mention Sanders’ $ 6 trillion.
With the Senate split 50:50, the Democrats need all of their members plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tied vote to pass a spending bill. It does this through a process known as “budget reconciliation,” which exempts tax and spending measures from the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to advance a bill.
In the 50-50 Senate, any moderate Democrat – not just Manchin, but Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona or Mark R. Warner of Virginia – can cap new spending by simply announcing the maximum they will support.
If Manchin persists in claiming that deficit spending cannot pay for new spending, its cap is likely to stay at $ 2 trillion or below.
But that’s still a larger number for domestic programs – green energy, childcare, health care, paid family vacations, education, and affordable housing – than Congress has ever passed in a single bill.
After all their power struggles, Democrats, including Manchin, seem to have reached agreement on one thing: They are all ready to support a reconciliation law that includes some of Biden’s domestic political priorities. That makes the odds of a historic award pretty good – even if it’s lower than the president or the progressives had hoped for.