President Charlie Brown
Joe Biden has bet his presidency on a caucus that may simply be irreconcilable.
WaPo (“Biden raises the stakes with the biggest gamble of his presidency“):
President Biden entered a caucus meeting of Democrats on Thursday morning, told them he wanted to speak from the heart, and then made one of the biggest gambles of a career that spans nearly a half century.
He put the future of his presidency, and the state of his party, on the line with a major bet that he could persuade a fractious group of Democrats to rally behind him and support a compromise $1.75 trillion social spending plan at the heart of his agenda.
“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week,” he said, according to a participant in the meeting.
His wager — the result of weeks of haggling and what has become a legislative Groundhog Day morass — was in some ways out of character for a president who has been relatively risk-averse, often keeping a safe distance from the most explosive legislative debates.
“We badly need a vote on both of these measures,” Biden pleaded in the caucus meeting earlier in the day, adding, “I need you to help me. I need your votes.”
He reached for history, saying that what would be achieved through the two plans would be greater and more significant than the combined efforts of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Biden’s agenda — and in many ways his presidency — has teetered on the verge of catastrophe in recent weeks, before he and Democratic congressional leaders slowly started to resolve intraparty conflicts that have been a stain on their tenure helming the federal government. How and whether Biden can navigate a Congress that Democrats have only nominal control over, with razor-thin majorities in both chambers, has been one of the enduring questions over his first nine months in office.
For Biden, the revised plan held the potential to show strength after months in which even his allies felt he was projecting weakness. Amid all of his challenges, his presidency at times has felt rudderless to some supporters.
Just as important, Democrats said, if they can reach a deal to pass the social spending plan and the infrastructure measure, it would demonstrate that the party can govern, meeting Biden’s campaign promise to successfully work with Republicans and unite a party in which old fractures resurfaced after Trump left office.
“The rest of the world wonders whether we can function,” he said at least twice during the caucus meeting. “Not a joke.”
Even aside from the absurdity of comparing a hodgepodge spending bill to ending the Great Depression, fighting World War II, and ensuring the civil rights of tens of millions of Black Americans, this is all rather silly. Biden enjoys a five-vote margin in the House and the Senate is a 50-50 tie. His caucus is incredibly fractured. While it would have been preferable to broker a deal inside the mythical First 100 Days of his administration—or at least to avoid negotiating it painfully in the press—that’s simply not the reality of the current political scene.
Beyond that, while it might be better if it were otherwise, we don’t have a parliamentary system. Democratic Representatives and Senators don’t work for Joe Biden. And it’s not just Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
The Daily Beast (“Dems Leave Biden Empty-Handed Again After Chaotic Day on Capitol Hill“):
With his agenda in peril in advance of an international climate summit, President Joe Biden came to Capitol Hill on Thursday and pleaded with House Democrats to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill—to prove to the world that American democracy actually can work.
The scene inside the closed-door meeting became so earnestly patriotic and rah-rah that, in between cheers for the president, some lawmakers broke into a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!”
But as soon as Biden left the Capitol and boarded Air Force One en route to Europe, the impromptu episode of The West Wing ended. Lawmakers snapped back to the realities of American democracy. And it was a mess.
Over the next few hours, the familiar drama that has pitted factions of the Democratic Party against each other—or, more specifically, the vast majority of the Democratic Party against two Democratic senators—entered its chaotic third act.
By late Thursday morning, the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s team revved up a push to get at least 218 Democrats to vote for the infrastructure bill. Vice President Kamala Harris began calling House progressives to try to get the infrastructure bill over the finish line, according to a source.
A White House official confirmed that account, telling The Daily Beast that “throughout the day,” Harris “has been making calls to House Democratic members about the [Build Back Better Act] framework.”
Pelosi’s leadership team also began whipping the legislation—something they didn’t do a month ago when the infrastructure bill was first supposed to pass the House.
But the whipping efforts quickly collided with the truth that there aren’t 218 Democrats ready to pass that bill without stronger assurances from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) that they would in turn pass the other plank of Biden’s agenda.
That plank, a $1.75 trillion social spending package, looks to be moving toward completion. But Manchin and Sinema have only offered tepid support—Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) said Thursday they were speaking in “hieroglyphics”—and progressives are resolute that they won’t budge on the infrastructure bill until Manchin and Sinema fully back the legislation.
With progressives and the two senators at an impasse, House leaders conceded that neither bill would pass this week. After a day of uncertainty, lawmakers voted on an extension of expiring transportations programs that would have otherwise been taken care of in the infrastructure bill.
With that, the legislative chaos of the day was over. House Democrats continued with a hearing on their 1,684 page bill, even though that meeting was now unnecessary at the moment. Senators, as they’re wont to do on Thursdays, left town. And the House quickly followed suit.
The Hill (“Progressives win again: No infrastructure vote Thursday“):
House Democratic leaders abandoned a third attempt on Thursday to clear a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, as progressives held firmly opposed without deeper assurances that a larger package of social benefits is a slam dunk.
The third punt in a month came after President Biden made a rare visit to the Capitol to beseech House Democrats to help him advance his agenda as a matter of demonstrating that American democracy can still function.
The visit was hailed by lawmakers of all stripes, but it did little to convince the liberals to vote immediately on the infrastructure bill. And the delay has sparked a new round of finger-pointing from lawmakers already frustrated with the months-long impasse and Biden’s sinking approval numbers.
“Not good optics. It’s terrible optics,” conceded Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), who wanted the House to pass the infrastructure bill on Thursday.
“People are frustrated right now,” added Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), a moderate Blue Dog. “There’s a lack of trust, and you got a lot of members here that have been here four years or less and they don’t seem to understand how you get things done.”
One of the Blue Dog Coalition leaders, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), later issued a statement, saying the group is “extremely frustrated that legislative obstruction of the [infrastructure bill] continues — not based on the bill’s merits, but because of a misguided strategy to use the bill as leverage on separate legislation.”
Some of the frustration was also directed toward the Senate centrist holdouts — Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — who have resisted large parts of Biden’s agenda and forced him to settle far below his initial request of $3.5 trillion in new spending.
“Basically it’s the [dis]trust of Manchin and Sinema,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). “That’s the problem.”
But there was also grumbling that Biden and his administration have bungled the negotiations from the start by focusing initially on the Senate and leaving House members feeling left out.
“Even in the beginning of the summer, this was about the White House and the Senate, and the House was excluded,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “This is, I think, the result of that omission.”
Despite the delay, Democrats were optimistic that negotiators could reach a deal within days on the social benefits bill, paving the way for both proposals to hit the floor next week.
Still, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team wanted to expedite that timeline by clearing the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday to give Biden a big legislative victory as he left for Europe for a global climate change summit. Leadership also hoped to boost Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, where voters go to the polls on Tuesday.
Whining aside, that’s just how this works. It’s simply a fact of life that the Senate is the biggest obstacle to any deal given how that body works. It’s always simply assumed that, because of the far stricter rules of the House, the Speaker can get a package passed.
Given the landscape, I’m not inclined to cast too much blame here on Biden, Pelosi, or Schumer. It’s been a royal shit show but I’m not sure how they could have managed the competing factions—and the complete lack of cooperation from the Republican Party—much better.
The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser (“Biden Can’t Quite Close the Deal—with His Own Party“) rightly calls out the premature triumphalism, though:
Many Democrats went ahead and claimed victory anyway, on the basis of Biden’s announcement. Former President Barack Obama put out a statement calling the framework “a giant leap forward.” The Natural Resources Defense Council cheered “historic progress when we need it most.” The White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, sought to reassure progressives upset about the jettisoning of priorities such as paid family leave and lower prescription-drug prices, by touting the bill in a tweet as “twice as big, in real dollars, as the New Deal was.” But it became obvious almost immediately that there was a more immediate challenge for the White House: the deal was not entirely done when Biden had announced it. With his Presidency hanging in the balance, it turned out, Biden had chosen to risk a public unveiling ceremony for an agreement that his party had not yet actually signed on to. Is this what winning looks like in this age of the 50-50 Senate?
For months, Biden has been stuck negotiating with fellow-Democrats over the details of the bill. The negotiations remained so uncertain that, even as Biden headed to the House to make his pitch, the Senate Majority Whip, Dick Durbin, was telling reporters that he wasn’t sure Democratic senators would support the deal because they still didn’t know what was in it. “No, I wish I could say yes, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty within the caucus as to what’s contained in the deal,” Durbin said. Biden, nonetheless, tried to project an air of unrattled confidence in his Build Back Better bill, whose generic name conceals a wealth of possible meanings. “Everybody’s on board,” the President told reporters as he arrived on Capitol Hill. “Today’s a good day.” But as the day ended it was not entirely clear that either statement was accurate.
Indeed, it’s not at all certain that the deadlock will get resolved any time soon. Or at all.
By next week, this could be just another forgotten congressional dumpster fire. The agonizingly slow negotiations on Biden’s agenda over the last few months are not the first time and will not be the last that the legislative sausage-making process has left legislators feeling, as Representative Debbie Dingell put it, “sick to your stomach.” Biden and Pelosi are betting on some basic principles of politics to help smooth it all over. They are betting that the memories of the enervating process, like a painful childbirth, will fade with time. They are betting that delivering something is better than delivering nothing. And they are betting that the mechanics of passing the legislation are much less significant than the politically popular proposals, such as raising taxes on wealthy corporations and child-care tax credits, contained within the bills. The House progressives quickly put out a statement saying that, while they were balking at having an infrastructure vote on Thursday, they were, in fact, committed to supporting both that bill and the bigger social-spending bill—whenever they do come to the floor. Winning tends to erase the pain of getting there.
But what I keep coming back to is that Biden has struggled so much—and had to put so much of his personal prestige and political capital on the line—for a deal he can’t quite close with his own party. These are Democrats he is negotiating with. No Republicans—or Russians or Chinese, for that matter—were involved in the making of the deal, to the extent that there is a deal. And why, exactly, was it such a heavy lift that it took so long to get to the pretty inevitable top-line number? A month ago, the big breakthrough was the revelation that Manchin was for a $1.5-trillion bill and that Biden and the Democratic leadership wanted to get to approximately two trillion dollars. It did not take a negotiating genius to figure out that they were going to end up at $1.75 trillion. This is what practically broke Washington? You can’t blame that one on Donald Trump.
In 2020, Biden campaigned as a dealmaker—not a Trump, I-could-sell-you-the-Brooklyn-Bridge-type dealmaker, but an actual Washington-insider-who-can-make-this-town-work-again-type dealmaker. This is why the stakes for him now are so high. It’s become a basic test of his ability to deliver.
This is both fair and not. In Washington, it takes far more than two to tango. Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972—almost four years before Sinema and seventeen years before Ocasio were born. He spent much of his adult lifetime—four more years than AOC has been alive—in a very different Congress than exists now.
Like Glasser, I’ve been saying from the beginning that the ceiling on this bill was always whatever Sinema and Manchin would agree to. It’s simply obvious. But, for the most militant members of the progressive caucus, it may well be that no bill is better than half a bill. That’s a mindset I can barely fathom but, again, it is what it is.
And Kyrsten Sinema is Lucy Van Pelt, Joe Manchin is Pig Pen so Mitch McConnell is the Great Pumpkin?
They did. The problem is that Sinema and Manchin have repeatedly negotiated deals and then broken their word after the deal is announced.
Extremely small majorities empower the most divergent members of the majority caucus. That’s just Congressional dynamics—it’s nothing new. What I think is new is that the two political parties are each a lot programmatic than they were when Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate and many if not most states are now effectively one party states. Forging coalitions and compromises are skills that are developed by use and they haven’t been used in recent years.
In what universe are the completely party-line votes the pending legislation is going to get going to show “successfully work with Republicans?” Unite his own party? Maybe some, I can see that, but the other? Maybe they meant “successfully work around Republican obstructionism.“
Peanuts doesn’t work as an analogy. It lacks a bully who keeps beating up the kids and blaming them for it.
Once again, the story is somehow about the unwieldiness of the Democratic caucus and not the obstructionism of the Republican Party. 99% of the Democrats in Congress are aligned – and 100% of Republicans are opposed – to a set of bills that will invest in the nation’s infrastructure, address climate change and help struggling families with health care, child care, education and housing. Sinema and Manchin would be irrelevant if only two so-called moderate Republican senators would commit to voting for the Build Back Better bill.
We have normalized Republican nihilism. We have established that you can destroy all norms of governance, lie shamelessly, act in bad faith, and, as long as you are completely consistent and unwavering, these destructive behaviors will become “baked in” and no longer be worth even talking about. The anti-majority party has found itself in a remarkably sweet place – be uniform and predictable and you can undermine the country with impunity.
If we’re going with Peanuts, I think Linus might be a better analogy for Joe Biden. He’s the seemingly “mature” kid in the room (except for the blanket). And he has complete faith in his convictions–in particular about the Great Pumpkin (or in this case the Great Compromise)–even when no one else has. He keeps preaching that it’s coming, and like Gadot, it never arrives.
Hopefully, this doesn’t end like a Peanuts comic, which is always, ultimately, in crushing disapointment.
Which deals have they agreed to and then reneged on?
I’m referring to the recurring gag where Lucy pulls the football away as Charlie is kicking with all his might, landing on his backside.
@Scott F.: It’s absolutely true that it was not long ago at all that at least some members of the opposition party would vote for a compromise bill and that the Republican Party has essentially refused to vote for anything under a Democratic President since 2009. But, like the de facto 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation, that’s simply background noise at this juncture. And, as Glasser notes, this is a reconciliation bill that can pass without any Republican votes if the Democrats get their act together.
Unprecedented opposition party obstructionism and nihilism are simply background noise only if we allow them to be. Normalization of abnormal behaviors is something only journalists, pundits, and the general public have the power to do. Acceptance of the bad actors is a gift we are not compelled to give.
The fact that BBB is a reconciliation bill is THE story, but we are telling it wrong. That legislation to address infrastructure, climate change and to help struggling families with health care, child care, education and housing will only be taken up by one of our two parties, because the opposition party has so monolithically abdicated any responsibility to govern the country is THE story.
The BIF bill was created by a deal for a 4 trillion package split into two parts, one which Republicans would vote for and one passed by reconciliation. After the BIF passed the senate, Machin and Sinema went back on their word to support the reconciliation and demanded it be cut.
Then in September, he reached a second agreement with Shumer to support a $1.5 trillion reconciliation package if it met certain other conditions. But after that was announced, he broke his word again and demanded further reductions.
The repeated pattern has been to negotiate a deal, wait for it to be announced, and then use the announcement to anchor the previous concessions as the starting point for a new round of negotiations.
I think Biden is out over his skis on this.
I’m betting either Manchin or Sinema will throw another wrench in the works before this is done.
After all, there is still attention to be gotten and there is still money to be made.
That’s pretty much the norm in parliamentary systems (Canada, the UK, and I believe most of Europe) — the opposition almost always votes against the gov’t motions because to vote with them is a signal that the gov’t is doing a good job and should be re-elected. Votes are almost always purely along party lines.
The difference is that in parliamentary systems the governing party has enough party discipline to ensure that all of their members vote the party line on critical bills. Any member who didn’t do so would be kicked out of the party. From the outside it appears your congress is becoming more parliamentary in terms of automatic opposition, without the party discipline that allows that system to work. In a parliamentary system Manchin and Simema would have been expulsed from the party — usually even the threat of that is enough to ensure party discipline (though I see why it isn’t in the American system).
One advantage of parliamentary systems is they allow third parties to wield real influence, which I’d suggest would be a very good thing in America, given how wide the range of viewpoints both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party has to span.
I’m familiar with that (it’s practically Tamarian*). But the fundamental problem is the GQP, which is the bully no one dares blame for his actions.
*It’s amazing the outsize influence this one episode had.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
It seems inevitable for Manchin. To the best of my recollection, the one consistent position he has held is that he won’t vote for any actual bill (which excluded the budget resolution) that includes the big climate change bucks. This puts him at odds with essentially the entire Democratic Party outside of his perception of the party in WV. The most recent version of the reconciliation bill still has $500B for climate change, but it’s now almost all in the form of tax credits for this or that sort of greener energy. It appears to me that Schumer and Pelosi are scrambling desperately to find some way to keep some climate change moneys in the bill despite Manchin’s adamant position that it must all be removed.
I’m hoping BBB won’t be “Shaka when the walls fell.”
Wouldn’t that depend on which half of the bill?
We need to take meaningful action on climate change, otherwise there really isn’t much point to the rest of it.
The Peanuts-style bully would be media bros and their blatantly anti-Biden, anti-Democrat, pro-Republican, anti-progress narratives and right wing conventional wisdom. I’m hoping Virginia voters will reject Youngkin’s book banning, cynical extremism-in-a-fleece-vest and put more egg on the faces of our How DeSantis Won the Pandemic “liberal” (hahahahaha) media.
Any other first year presidency would be considered a resounding success after lowering unemployment 5%, raising wages 8%, cutting childhood poverty in half, ending an endless war, and getting nearly 80% of the eligible partially or fully vaccinated. Instead, tantamount to Hillary in 2015-2016, establishment punditry has deliberately and relentlessly destroyed Biden’s popularity. The goal is to get Treason Trump back in power. Many of these so-called centrists secretly sympathized with Trump’s white supremacy all along, they don’t even realize how bad a job they’re doing at hiding it.
See my previous comment. The establishment is always going to carry water for 1% corporatism (Manchin and Sinema) and regressive white supremacy (the Republican Party).
Nevermind that the “99% of Democrats in Congress” actually represent, and were elected by, millions and millions more Americans than those blocking long-overdue, wildly popular investments in healthcare, education, childcare, climate fixes, housing, and mass transit.
It’s unreasonable for Biden and his progressive supporters to insist the American republic’s representative democracy actually be democratic and do the people’s will. I mean, how dare they?
I think this phrasing is bad, as it implies a level of choice and ties the entire presidency to the legislative agenda.
Biden’s legislative agenda — really, the Democrats’ legislative agenda — is limited by achieving consensus among all the Democratic Senators, and all but two Democratic Representatives (if I have my numbers right). This isn’t a matter of Biden betting on it, it’s a matter of necessity.
Alternately, Biden is ambitiously attempting to be a transformational President with the legislative margins of a caretaker president. If he he can’t pull the sides together, he hasn’t failed as a president, he’s just a caretaker president. (Which if the world weren’t on fire would be fine, and there’s still a lot that can be done with regulations and executive orders anyway)
Why do the Dems always want Congress to pass legislation to find out what is actually in the bill? In past years, the bipartisan $1.5 TRILLION dollar infrastructure bill would be hailed as a major win. Except the Dems will not allow a vote on this. This will not end well next November for the majority party.
@Steve Fetter: Hey, if the GQP Senators and House want the major win, they can vote for it and run on “if we hadn’t stepped up, you wouldn’t have what you got.” Now, move on to your NEXT objection.
@Steve Fetter: The Senate passed the bill. The House committees passed it out unchanged. Other than the possibility of floor amendments, everyone knows exactly what is in it.
@Steve Fetter: Oh look it’s that talking point again….
If Sinema is doing this just to mess with Biden’s head he’s definitely screwed. IMO Charlie and Lucy would’ve eventually wound up married. Divorced after a couple years…of course…
To my eye it still fits within the model of negotiating a price for a leather jacket in Tijuana: Opening bid was crafted with being bargained down in mind, and everybody pretends they are willing to walk.
My take, as I’ve stated many times here, is that the Dem coalition is unwieldy. But that is largely a function of the narrow interests represented by the GOP–a priori moral issues for the lower to lower-middle classes and voodoo economics for the middle to upper earners.
Yes, obstructionism is a thing, but it’s the result of a bunch of other things.
Psilocybin, crack or alcohol??
Looking at this from the outside:
1 – The way the US does budgeting is baroque in the extreme. But you do you. 🙂
2 – IMUHO all Democrats concerned should be looking at the whole thing from one, and only one perspective: “Is what I/we/they are doing going to add up to the Democrats holding House and Senate in 2024?” Because if you lose them, you have a very high probability of Trump being installed as President in 2028, and to hell with the voting.
Can I order one from column A, one from column C? Pass on B, thanks.
Oh, and a cigar.
I am totally down with two of the three for my own personal use, and employ them regularly.
I had to knock off booze almost entirely after I quit smoking. The two were too deeply associated in brain.
Occasionally, I would have a beer possibly two in an evening. Anything more, or spirits, and the sneaksy Gollum part of my brain would start to whisper, “C’mon, you can sneak one or two cigs. What’s the harm in that? It will feel really good and will scratch that damnable incessant itch. You know you want to.” I did want to. Badly.
I also starting chugging coffee like a fiend – 10x my normal intake.
@Scott F.: Yep. Kasie Hunt of CNN tweeted this:
She’s being ratioed for threatening to use her media platform to slam Democrats to the formerly GOP voting suburban women, yet somehow the GOP’s 100% opposition to paid leave seems to have escaped her.
@Dude Kembro: spot on.
I left out the best part – after I few months I could drink alcohol successfully without a major existential nicotine crisis and my coffee intake reverted to the mean.
@de stijl: The good news is the urge goes away after about 15 years, and a decade later the smell of cigarette smoke is offensive.
Whoever decided the Senate should take the lead in this exercise, to prove that “bipartisanship” was still possible, ought never to be allowed to oversee legislative strategy ever again. Unfortunately, I suspect that means the president, the Senate majority leader and quite possibly the Speaker.
The House should have passed a single reconciliation bill with as much of Biden’s agenda as Pelosi could get the votes for, and sent it to the Senate to take up in the normal way. The prima donnas in the majority caucus could have passed it, or moved amendments, or opposed it, as they saw fit. But there would have been no doubt about who was to blame if the bill failed, and Democrats could have gone to the mid-terms with a clear message: give us a workable majority in the Senate, so we can deliver all these benefits the House already passed.
It’s all water under the bridge now, of course. I would not be surprised if Sinema continues to be coy about what she’ll support, demanding “her” precious roads’n’bridges bill gets passed first. And if the House is desperate enough to comply, I would not be surprised if she and Manchin proceed later to kill the whole BBB bill.
“We won with the poorly educated, I love the poorly educated.” – Dementia Donald, referring to meth-addled Boomers like you
#VoteBlue #MAGAIsAMentalDisease #StayWoke #TrumpIsALoser
Only 15 years? I am 1/30th the way of the way there!