WASHINGTON (AP) – Joe Biden’s early presidential ambitions quickly collide with the guardrails of the Senate’s archaic rules, testing his willingness to remake an institution he revere to keep many of the promises he made to Americans.
It’s a wobbly dilemma in Washington with real-world implications for millions of people, determining everything from the future of a minimum wage hike to access to the vote. It will also shape Biden’s ability to keep the two restive wings of the Democratic Party united: swing state moderates wary of the appearance of effectively abandoning bipartisanship and more progressive Democrats who argue Republicans don’t come. anyway.
Biden – who spent four decades as a senator and speaks of the institution with reverence, as well as a revisionist story of the good old days of party cooperation – so far is trying to find common ground .
The Liberal Democrats have applauded his willingness to go it alone in a sweeping $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, passing an option known as budget reconciliation that allows certain laws to be passed at the same time. simple majority – in other words, without any Republican vote. But there are limits to this path, including strict rules on what can and cannot be included in a bill.
On Thursday, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a minimum wage provision of $ 15 was banned, prompting some Democrats to ask Biden to push the limits and overturn his decision. The White House said that would not happen, citing the president’s respect for “the Senate process.”
Ultimately, the COVID-19 relief bill was approved by the House by 219-212 early on Saturday and will almost certainly pass Congress, although some Democrats are complaining about the loss of the minimum wage increase. But the way forward for Biden only becomes more perilous given the slim majority of Democrats in the House and Senate and few signs of Republican interest in tackling climate change legislation, an immigration overhaul or electoral reforms. These moves for the most part fall outside the rules of reconciliation, meaning Biden must either find a way to bring in the centrist GOP senators or detonate what is known as the filibuster, which would pave the way for it. the adoption of all laws with 51 votes.
For some Democrats, taking this step comes down to accepting the reality of what Republicans are and aren’t ready to give Biden.
“Democrats made a lot of promises by winning the House, Senate and White House,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., A progressive who has advocated the destruction of some long-standing Congressional rules. “So we’re going to have to make a choice here. Are we going to stick to these rules or are we going to use the levers of government to work for citizens? For me, it’s not radical – it’s governing. “
Biden, who has presented himself to voters as a candidate capable of overcoming Washington’s hyperpartism, has so far suggested he was inclined to play by the rules and woo moderate Republicans who might be willing to work with him. him.
But the calculations quickly become complicated. With the Senate divided 50-50, Biden would need 10 Republicans to join him to pass major legislation. Yet every move he could make to the center to win a GOP vote could jeopardize the support of Liberal senators.
Matt Bennett, executive director of Third Way, a center-left think tank, said he saw some value in Biden’s assessment of Republicans’ willingness to work with him in the first few weeks of his administration. . But without a significant crack in the GOP firewall, Bennett said continuing the filibuster will leave Biden with almost no chance of getting through his legislative agenda before the 2022 midterm election.
“If the filibuster persists, then he will have to do what (former President Barack) Obama has been doing for six years, which is to use executive power to the extent that he can and hopes he can get it.” a better result at the halfway point and a few more votes, ”said Bennett.
Indeed, it was the lessons of the Obama years that changed the view of many Democrats on filibuster, including the former president himself. Obama started his term with an enviable 60-seat Senate majority, allowing him to pass a recession bailout and health care overhaul without Republicans or rule changes. But his majority declined after his first two years in power, as did his ability to pass important laws.
Last year Obama called the filibuster a “relic of Jim Crow” and said if it was used to block voting rights legislation it should be eliminated.
But there is no clear consensus within the Democratic Party on the way forward. Two powerful moderate senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, formally oppose filibuster reform. Others have not yet fully articulated their position.
Both sides have been reducing filibuster for several years. In 2013, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, ended the filibustering of confirmation votes for the executive branch and some judicial candidates. In 2017, with Republican Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate, the GOP removed the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court candidates.
Many Democrats believe Biden will have to deal with the problem quickly. Democrats will soon start pushing forward an elections and ethics bill, which is seen by many in the party as a counterweight to voting restrictions being pursued by Republicans at the state level. GOP lawmakers have criticized the measure as a federal election takeover, and conservative groups have pledged to spend millions to fight it.
This could explode the systematic obstruction as the only clear path for passage. Progressives argue that it is a much more acceptable choice than explaining to voters, including many people of color who fear further restrictions on access to ballots, that the protection of a Senate procedure was. more important than protecting their right to vote.
“It’s going to take presidential leadership,” said Tre Easton, senior advisor to the Battle Born Collective, a progressive group pushing to end the filibuster. “President Biden has a choice to do soon enough, probably sooner than he would like, on what he wants to push.”
Editor’s Note: Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the PA since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC