(Trends Wide) — It is time for the Democrats to choose.
If President Joe Biden’s multi-billion dollar social reform, climate and infrastructure reform agenda is to survive, his divided party must make ugly decisions about which programs to fund and which to abandon in order to reach a compromise agreement.
As they seek to preserve the president’s ambitious effort to rebuild the economy of working Americans, Democratic lawmakers also face a parallel dilemma: Are they funding all of the broad health care, education, wellness and climate programs for a shorter period than planned? Or should they choose some priorities to accommodate them in long-term national life?
The internal Democratic standoff that led to the legislative stalemate, which crystallized last week, clarified two things. First, it cemented centers of power in the progressive and moderate wings of the party, neither of which was willing to blink. Second, it established that the small 50-50 Democratic majority in the Senate cannot support a spending plan at Biden’s expected price of $ 3.5 trillion.
Biden hit the road Tuesday, visiting the district of distressed Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, creating hard-to-miss symbolism of his party’s need to show results in order to maintain power.
“My goal is to get everything I campaigned for eventually passed,” the president said before heading home to continue negotiating in Washington.
“Not everything will happen at once, so we will achieve a compromise between the people who strongly support infrastructure and human infrastructure. We will get a compromise,” Biden promised.
The good news for Democrats is that there seems to be some movement after entrenched and bitter exchanges last week forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to postpone the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill because progressives expected total spending of $ 3.5 trillion on separate legislation.
Progressives have now accepted the need to cut the top-line dollar value, after consulting with the president, who has proposed a figure just above or below $ 2 trillion, sources told Trends Wide. Biden also said Tuesday that he believes West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the two Democratic senators, along with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who is blocking the larger bill, could raise his own $ 1 cap. , 5 billion.
But the next steps go beyond appeasing House progressives angry at Tory Democrats and cutting a number, as difficult as that still may be.
A spending package of about $ 2 trillion would be a third smaller than the $ 3.5 version progressives fought for last week and a fraction of the $ 6 trillion that independent Vermont Senator Bernie. Sanders originally targeted. That means progressives must accept that their expansive dreams will be cut short because of what many see as Manchin and Sinema’s self-defeating and ill-defined objections.
That reality will trigger battles over competing priorities, many of which are non-negotiable or unacceptable to specific legislators.
At its crudest level, this can come down to choosing between funding free pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds or two years of community college for young adults. Expanding Medicare to add dental and hearing benefits for seniors, a long-term Sanders goal, could come at the expense of another legislator’s pet program. Can Democrats continue to provide home health care to sick and elderly Americans? Will some of the efforts to build a green economy have to go, even though that could ruin the United Nations global climate summit next month in Scotland? Hovering over these or other unpleasant belt-tightening scenarios will be the possibility, unpleasant to progressives, that Manchin and Sinema may still have an effective veto.
These decisions will be painful not only because they will exacerbate divisions in the party that grew even further last week. They will also help define the character, ideological positioning, and future electoral strategies of the Democratic Party itself in Washington. This is a reckoning from Biden’s presidential primary campaign, when he straddled the gap between progressives and moderates, giving each wing reason enough to believe he was on their side.
The campaigns show what political parties aspire to be, and Sanders’ success in two lost but significant presidential races led Democrats to the left and a major government action to reshape the economy, a goal shared by Biden, albeit with a less radical approach than the Democratic Socialist.
But governing is defining in another way: it reveals the policies that a party can make into law; in the end, a more important historical and legacy arbiter when evaluating presidencies.
So far, in the dispute between the left and the center in the Democratic Party over the $ 1 trillion infrastructure and $ 3.5 trillion spending plans, Biden has had his hands out quite a bit in public, even if he is very active behind the scenes. He seemed to hope that the days of debate would catalyze a natural reunion around a sweet spot that rival factions could accept.
You now have little choice but to become much more assertive when mapping out the eventual deal. This will test your own political prowess, and has much more at stake than in the days of your legendary congressional deals as senator and vice president.
It will also put Democrats in a bind about how much they want their term to succeed and whether they are willing to compromise some of their tough positions for that larger goal. It’s an especially acute question with Democrats facing historically tough midterm elections next year with their president somewhat battered politically after a rough summer. Their minds may also be focused as they see an increasingly authoritarian former president, Donald Trump, moving toward a possible campaign in 2024.
The compromises that come with power
Last week, progressives in the House showed their newfound influence. Now they must learn about the commitments and obligations that come with power as they cut their goals in pursuit of the deal Biden wants.
The president of the Progressive Caucus of Congress, Pramila Jayapal, of Washington state, advised her troops in a call not to focus on the first figure of the spending package, but on their priorities and how they are structured.
Trends Wide’s Annie Grayer reported that Jayapal’s preference is to shorten the funding horizon for some programs rather than eradicate them altogether or put them to the test, a device Manchin favors.
The logic here is that once social spending programs are in place and popular, it would be difficult even for a Republican-led Congress to get rid of them. And future Democratic majorities and presidents could expand the broad base established by the Biden administration. But the Trump-era Republican Party is not always based on logic. It would be a big gamble to trust Republicans, who are more interested in cutting personal and business taxes, to preserve what could still be the most radical social expansion in decades. The fact that the current Senate Republican Party is willing to risk a US debt default rather than help extend the government’s borrowing authority could serve as a reality check for some liberals.
Another confusing area is Manchin and Sinema’s willingness to compromise. Manchin has deep-seated views, shaped by the idiosyncrasies of his own small pro-Trump state, and may not appreciate the pressures Democrats feel elsewhere. The coal state senator has already said that he is uncomfortable with provisions on climate change that are a must for progressives. It says the inclusion in the spending package of the Hyde Amendment, which raises federal funding for most abortions, is a red line.
But keeping it out is a red line for House liberals. Still, Manchin told Trends Wide’s Manu Raju on Tuesday that he had not ruled out a $ 1.9 trillion level for the final package despite his reservations.
Sinema is harder to read as she has been less specific in public about which particular programs she wants to fund or reject, but she is convinced she will not support a $ 3.5 trillion bill. The Arizona senator’s reaction to a weekend of criticism from fellow Democrats, including in her home state, where protesting activists followed her into a bathroom, could also influence her calculations.
A compromise is possible only if both parties want it. And in the stalled Senate, your vote is priceless. Like Manchin, Sinema could dictate terms that even progressives who are reluctantly willing to cut back on their aspirations can still see beyond the limits.