By Andrew Trunsky –
- Democrats have unified control of government and multiple priorities on their agenda, but are faced with a time crunch and a divided Senate.
- Some legislation passed the House relatively easily, but faces steep odds in a Senate where 10 Republicans would need to vote in favor for them to pass. Other priorities like police reform and infrastructure have yet to even take shape as legislation due to how difficult bipartisan negotiations have proved.
- Congress also faces a July 31 deadline to extend the debt limit, meaning that Republicans and Democrats will have to agree to either raise or suspend it once again lest the nation default on its multi-trillion dollar debt.
- Polarization in the Senate has even extended to items that passed the House with Republican support, including a bill that would create a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack.
Democrats have unified control of government and an extensive list of priorities on their agenda, but are faced with a time crunch and a divided Senate.
Some legislation, including Democrats’ sweeping voting rights bill, passed the House relatively easily, but faces steep odds in a Senate where 10 Republicans would need to vote in favor for them to pass. Other priorities like police reform, which President Joe Biden hoped to sign by May 25, and infrastructure, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hoped to bring to a vote by July 4, have yet to even take shape as legislation due to how difficult bipartisan negotiations have proved.
Congress also faces a July 31 deadline to extend the debt ceiling, meaning that Republicans and Democrats will have to agree to either raise or suspend it once again lest the nation default on its multi-trillion dollar debt. Government funding also runs out on Sept. 30, meaning that negotiations regarding Democratic priorities could be further sidetracked if Congress seeks to minimize the chance of another government shutdown.
Polarization in the Senate has not only been consistent since Biden took office, but has extended to items that passed the House with Republican support. The chamber is poised to kill a bill that would create a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out against it, calling it a “slanted and unbalanced proposal.”
Biden announced his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan in March, which Republicans immediately opposed due to its size, scope and financing through tax increases.
Though Senate Democrats can use budget reconciliation, a legislative tool requiring just a simple majority instead of the normal 60 votes to pass the bill, Biden said he was committed to holding negotiations with Republicans instead of boxing them out.
While some initial progress was made, those deliberations have stalled in recent days, with Republicans’ most recent $568 billion counteroffer falling far shy of the White House’s new $1.7 trillion proposal.
Instead of taking the necessary time to craft a bipartisan package, some liberals have urged Democratic leadership and Biden to go it alone, since his party has historically unfavorable odds to keep House and Senate majorities in the 2022 midterms.
White House advisor Cedric Richmond told CNN on Sunday that Biden is prepared to “change course” if talks continued to falter.
“[Biden] wants a deal. He wants it soon, but if there’s meaningful negotiations taking place in a bipartisan manner, he’s willing to let that play out,” Richmond said. “But again, he will not let inaction be the answer. And when he gets to the point where it looks like that is inevitable, you’ll see him change course.” Police Reform
Lawmakers in the Senate are more optimistic that they will reach a deal on a police reform bill after the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last Congress.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who has led negotiations for his caucus, told CNN on Sunday that he was “committed” to reaching an agreement, and that he has been consistently communicating with South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott and California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, who have been central figures as well.
“This is not about going after good officers. This is about when officers have breached the civil rights of another American citizen,” Booker said. “To me, we need to create real accountability. So, I’m at the negotiating table fighting for that.”
But while Biden hoped to sign a police reform bill by Tuesday, talks were slowed over qualified immunity, which shields police officers from nearly all types of civil suits.
“We need to at some point get qualified immunity,” Booker said. “That’s one of the big issues that we’re working very hard to see if we could bridge this wide gulf.”
“I’ve said where my line is,” Booker added later in the interview when pressed on whether agreement could be reached on the issue. “We wrote a bill with senator, now-Vice President [Kamala] Harris in the Senate, along with our House allies… that said very clearly we want to eliminate qualified immunity.”
Scott, however, was skeptical of nixing qualified immunity earlier in May, warning that it could worsen officer responses.
“If you demonize and/or eliminate protections that [police] have, chances are very low that you’re going to have officers responding, so community safety goes down,” Scott said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to pass the For the People Act, Democrats’ signature voting rights bill, pledging to bring it to a full Senate vote and saying that “failure is not an option.”
The bill would almost completely federalize American elections, legalize universal mail-in voting and ballot harvesting and adopt a series of anti-gerrymandering and government ethics measures. It passed the House in April, but faces unanimous opposition from Republicans, who have labeled it as a Democratic power grab.
With the Senate filibuster in place, Democrats would need 10 Republicans to vote for the bill for it to make it to Biden’s desk, which is extraordinarily unlikely. Some Democrats, however, have called for the filibuster to be abolished so the bill can make it into law, especially since Republican legislatures have begun to adopt voting reforms that critics say make it harder to vote in states across the country.
A simple majority vote could scrap the rule, but Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have repeatedly opposed its abolishment, leaving Democrats at least two votes shy of a majority. And while Biden has suggested that he would be open to some type of filibuster reform, he has only floated abolishing it if there is “complete lockdown” in Congress.
The For the People Act advanced out of the Senate Rules Committee two weeks ago on a tie vote, allowing Schumer to bring it to the floor for a full vote, which he intends to do.
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