WASHINGTON – It took half a year but Democrats pushed President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion package of social and climate initiatives through the House of Representatives. It’s no easier in the Senate, where painful Republican amendments, restrictive rules, and Joe Mansion lurk.
In the face of unbroken GOP opposition, Democrats finally came to an agreement among themselves and eased the settlement through the House of Representatives on November 19.
They are negotiating more changes for a final version they hope will win approval by Christmas in the 50-50 Senate, when they will need every Democratic vote. The amended bill would still need to be passed.
The gauntlet they face:
The Bright Side for Democrats
Yes, just weeks ago, the bill price was $3.5 trillion over 10 years. The House has passed about $2 trillion and it is likely to fall further in the Senate.
And yes, Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. , and Kirsten Sinema, D-Ariz. They have already forced their party to limit the size and ambition of the measure. Manchin, at least, wants to cut more.
But while they angered progressives desiring more forceful action, none of the moderate senators indicated a desire to blow up the party’s top legislative priority. Both have had months of talks with party leaders, indicating that they each want a deal, although one reflects their views.
Things could still explode in the Senate, as debate won’t begin until a week before December 6. But Democrats hold a strong chance of enacting their plans to increase spending and tax cuts, making child care, health coverage, education and housing affordable. and slowing global warming, which is financed in large part by charging higher fees to corporations large and rich.
Republican Party Adjustments
Here is one place where Republicans can cause real problems for Democrats.
After the legislation has been debated for up to 20 hours, senators can introduce an unlimited number of amendments and force a vote with little debate. The so-called Rama voting can last all night.
The Republican Party’s goals will be twofold. They can force changes that weaken the bill by winning only one Democrat. They can introduce losing but gaining ammo for next year’s midterm elections by registering Democrats against seemingly popular ideas.
The 2,100-page invoice presents a lot of goals.
Do you want to accuse the Democrats of raising the prices of gasoline and home heating? They dare to oppose an amendment banning new duties on oil and natural gas facilities with excessive emissions of methane, a contributor to greenhouse gases.
The Republican Party’s move to repeal the high tax cuts in this measure for state and local taxes may allow them to accuse Democrats of protecting the wealthy, the main beneficiaries of those deductions. Previous Republican tax cuts notably helped high-income earners.
The amendments could be designed to portray Democrats as providing federal benefits to immigrants in the United States without legal permission, and few qualify for such assistance. Or Republicans could suggest giving parents more power over school curricula, an issue that helped elect Republican Glenn Youngkin in this month’s Virginia governor race.
Senate rules, hateful yet dangerous
Democrats use a special process that allows them to approve the bill with a simple majority, not the usual 60 votes that would allow Republicans to kill the legislation.
But there is a price: His provisions must be driven mainly by budget considerations, not sweeping changes in policy. Opponents could ask the chamber’s nonpartisan MP, Elizabeth McDonough, to decide whether the oath violates this requirement, and if it does, it always falls out of the bill.
Immigration may be the Democrats’ most vulnerable priority.
The House bill would allow millions of immigrants in the United States since before 2011 without permanent legal status to obtain permits to live and work in the United States for up to 10 years. McDonough said recently that two previous immigration proposals violated Senate rules.
Republicans may also challenge some provisions that allow the government to lower prescription drug prices.
Senate changes to the bill seem inevitable, thanks in large part to Manchin, one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress.
He has already helped force Biden to abandon initial plans to create a free community college, offering new dental and vision healthcare benefits to energy producers who are not weaning themselves off carbon-heavy fuels. This was the mainstay of Biden’s plan to combat climate change.
Now it appears Manchin is preparing to force the removal of four weeks of the annual bill from required paid leave for family and medical reasons. This $200 billion component is appreciated by progressives.
Mansion, whose state is a top coal producer, frowns at some of the remaining provisions intended to spur a shift to green energy. He wondered about introducing some new benefits without imposing income limits. Combined with his frequent expressions of concern about inflation, which some say pumping spending into this measure would exacerbate, the price appears to be headed lower.
Sinema helped reduce package costs. It has prevented Democrats from raising tax rates on wealthy Americans and corporations, proposals many love as revenue-powerful collectors and symbols of class equality. Democrats have found other ways to increase fees on these groups.
But Arizona rarely details its claims in public, which makes it difficult to read its goals as it moves forward. She recently told Politico that she opposes tax increases that could harm the economy, but that unlike Manchin, the bill’s environmental provisions are “the most important part of it.”
Other changes in the Senate
The House of Representatives raised the current $10,000 per year cap on local and state tax cuts allowed to $80,000, helping win Democrats’ votes in high-tax, mostly blue states.
But outside, nonpartisan groups calculate that the change will greatly benefit the wealthiest Americans. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders and Senator Bob Menendez, a National Democrat, have discussed rejecting the tax break for high-income earners.
While the House bill strengthens the government’s ability to rein in drug prices, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, a Raw Democrat, spoke of moving forward. House language is a more modest compromise than many Democrats would prefer.
Progressive Sanders, the ideological opposite of Manchin, says he is still trying to “strengthen” climate change law, Medicare, drug prices and taxation of the rich.
With Democrats hoping to finally pass the bill, Wyden and Sanders’ influence appears limited.