President Biden and his fellow Democrats face many challenges in trying to pass two ambitious bills — one on infrastructure, the other on social and environmental programs — this summer.
Among them: Republican support looks shaky on the infrastructure plan and nonexistent on the other plan. Democrats have such slim congressional majorities that they can lose almost none of their own members. And some liberal activists have already protested one of the plans outside the White House.
The task is difficult enough that White House staff members sometimes talk about it internally as akin to “trying to land the plane on a very narrow landstrip in the middle of the ocean,” Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told me yesterday.
But Biden and the Democratic leaders in Congress do have one big advantage, and it sometimes gets lost amid the noise. So far, both Senate and House Democrats seem notably unified behind the two bills’ major goals.
Manchin to Sanders
In the political center, Joe Manchin of West Virginia helped negotiate the infrastructure bill and has spoken positively about a large second bill focused on social programs. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another moderate, has said she is “open to finding a path forward” on both. Mark Warner of Virginia, known as a “business guy,” is helping craft large parts of the legislation, as my colleague Jonathan Weisman explains.
On the left, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also seem to be on board, praising the second package even though it’s smaller than they favor. “In some cases, it doesn’t provide all the funding that I would like,” Sanders said this week. But he also called it “probably the most consequential piece of legislation since the 1930s.”
This relative consensus is a contrast to the internal Democratic divisions on some other issues, like voting rights and the filibuster. But the politics of economic policy tend to be different — and easier — for the party. It frequently stays unified on economic issues, including taxes and Obamacare.
Why? For one thing, Democrats’ economic positions tend to be popular, even in purple and red states. The two big bills Biden is hoping to get through Congress — which together would spend money on roads, broadband internet, pre-K and other programs while raising taxes on the rich — fit the pattern. A large majority of voters support them, polls show.
‘A long way to go’
The bills may still fail, to be clear. They face multiple hurdles.
On the infrastructure bill, the Democrats’ plan is to pass it with at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. Eleven Republican senators signaled support for negotiations over a bill last month, but only five have signed on to the resulting deal. That deal includes an increase in I.R.S. funding, which would help cover the bill’s cost by reducing tax evasion — a provision that may not be able to win 10 Republican votes.
If Republican votes don’t materialize, the next question will be whether Manchin and other moderate Democrats are willing to pass the bill anyway. Doing so would require using a process known as reconciliation that bypasses the filibuster and lets Democrats pass a bill on party lines.
Then there is Biden’s second plan, focused on social programs like pre-K and measures to slow climate change. Republican support for it seems unlikely, which means it would need to pass through reconciliation and keep the support of every Democratic senator. It also could not afford to lose more than a handful of House Democrats.
Manchin has already signaled that he finds the climate provisions too aggressive. Senator Jon Tester of Montana has called the overall $3.5 trillion price tag “a big amount.” Some House Democrats have also said they were worried about the debt.
For now, these objections seem more like efforts to shape an eventual bill than block it. Moderate Democrats like Manchin often issue high-profile, if substantively modest, objections, which help maintain their centrist public image.
“Democrats have found ways to bridge these divides so far,” Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent, said. “But there is a long way to go.”
70 percent — or 40?
During a panel I moderated yesterday, I asked two economists — one progressive leaning and one conservative leaning — how they viewed the bills’ chances. Jason Furman, a former top aide to Barack Obama, said they were “vastly higher than I expected” a few months ago. He added that an infrastructure bill seemed on a path to pass and gave the second plan a 70 percent chance of doing so.
Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute agreed that the second bill’s odds looked better than a few months ago but thought they were still only “40 to 45 percent.”
Sanders — who is more of a dealmaker than his radical reputation suggests — is among those who is more confident. “If you’re asking me at the end of the day, do I think we’re going to pass this? I do,” he told reporters this week. Biden sounds confident, too: “I still have confidence we’re going to be able to get what I’ve proposed and what I’ve agreed to in the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure,” he said yesterday.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, plans to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill as early as Wednesday, a test of Republican support.
A question about the second package, as The Times’s Jim Tankersley notes: Will major provisions last for only a few years, so Democrats can hold down the cost and win moderates’ votes?
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Hunting down looted paintings
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PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Berries, nectarines, peaches, plums: Any juicy fruit will work in this tender summer buckle.
What to Watch
The “Space Jam” sequel leaves a viewer “feeling like Wile E. Coyote after hitting a mesa wall,” Glenn Kenny writes in a review.
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Now Time to Play
The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were clementine and inclement. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “The Lion King” villain (four letters).
If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you Monday. — David
P.S. Apollo 11 took off for the moon 52 years ago today. The next day, The Times reported it went “without flaw.”
You can see today’s print front page here.
“The Daily” is about abuse inside Canada’s residential schools. “The Ezra Klein Show” features Ibram X. Kendi.
Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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