Congressional Democrats face a stalled agenda and limited time to get it moving again when they return in January.
Democrats hoped in the new year to be sending the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk, along with a voting and election overhaul bill that would expand access to the polls ahead of the critical midterm elections.
But both measures face certain gridlock, and party lawmakers are left with the prospect of abandoning the voting legislation and rewriting the Build Back Better legislation significantly to win over party centrists.
Democrats will have limited time to try to advance the bill or any other major legislation thanks to election-year politics that make it much harder for vulnerable incumbents to cast difficult votes such as the one that would be required to pass Build Back Better. Although the bill faces a major rewrite due to the objections of centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the new version is poised to have a significant price tag offset by tax increases.
Democrats will be sidetracked quickly in the new year, when they must shift their focus to fiscal 2022 government funding, which runs out in February. Democrats control both chambers and will have to work out a bipartisan deal to extend funding, which will be difficult to achieve.
Facing a short timeline, a big to-do list, and looming midterm elections, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, plans to move quickly in January.
He told Democrats early Monday morning the Senate will vote soon after it returns on both the Build Back Better legislation and the voting and election overhaul bill.
The move is aimed at pressuring holdout Manchin, but it will also force vulnerable Democratic incumbents to go on record in support of the doomed bill. The measure would create new government subsidies and programs and implement green energy policies that analysts have determined would drive up inflation and energy costs while increasing the deficit and raising taxes.
STUDENT LOAN PAYMENT PAUSE EXTENDED THROUGH MAY 1
“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act,” Schumer told lawmakers. “And we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”
Republican campaign operatives celebrated Schumer’s announcement. The vote could be politically damaging to vulnerable Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, among others.
“We appreciate these senators’ willingness to reveal themselves as the liberals they really are rather than the moderates they pretend to be,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Chris Hartline said. “And we certainly appreciate Sen. Schumer’s insistence that vulnerable Democrats vote multiple times to support this reckless tax-and-spending spree.”
Democrats are eager to show voters that their party can govern and had planned a campaign blitz promoting the many new programs and subsidies in the bill, which as currently written includes free pre-school, a month of paid family and medical leave, an extension of the child tax credit, and much more.
But voters at the moment are most concerned about inflation, which some economists have argued would be further aggravated by more government spending.
Democrats are attempting to pass the bill on the heels of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid bill.
A Fox Business poll released this week found 46% of registered voters believed the Build Back Better plan would make inflation worse, while 42% believe it would hurt the economy.
Democrats are now weighing a bill rewrite that could include a long-term extension of the child tax credit, green energy provisions, and money to help lower prescription drug costs.
Democrats hope to be able to tout these new benefits on the campaign trail. They were also aiming to rewrite election and voting laws in time to override voter integrity laws that passed in many red states, including Georgia, where Warnock faces a tough reelection bid.
In order to pass the bill, however, Democrats would have to eliminate the filibuster, either permanently or temporarily.
Schumer said this week Senate Democrats are discussing a filibuster change so that Republicans can’t block the voting bill.
Republicans oppose the measure as a power grab by Democrats that will federalize elections, allow voter fraud, and skew elections in favor of Democrats.
Changing the 60-vote threshold to a simple majority would require the support of all 50 Democrats, but Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are among the Democrats who oppose a change to the long-standing filibuster.
The stalled Congress has left paralyzed Democrats to turn to President Joe Biden to help promote party achievements, including the infrastructure bill he negotiated, and which many party liberals bemoaned for falling short on mass transit and green energy funding.
On Wednesday, Biden extended a pause on student loan payments until May, while high gas prices finally began to drop noticeably following the president’s decision to release part of the nation’s emergency stash of oil, the strategic petroleum reserve.
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“President Biden and House Democrats are delivering durable economic growth with historic investments in infrastructure, a stronger supply chain, and American workers,” aides from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said on Wednesday. “Now, ahead of the holiday season, families are seeing presents arrive on time, gas prices beginning to fall, and a strong outlook for more durable economic growth for the United States even as other countries struggle to find their footing.”
Democrats have also turned to Biden to try to salvage a deal on Build Back Better. Biden told reporters he'll continue to negotiate with Manchin.
“I still think there’s a possibility of getting Build Back Better done,” Biden said. “Sen. Manchin and I are going to get something done.”