(Headline USA) During the Trump administration, the act of governing seemed to happen at the speed of presidential tweets.
But now President Joe Biden is settling in for what appears will be a long, summer slog as he tries to fulfill some of his alarmingly ambitious promises while coming to terms with the political realities of a deeply divided government.
Despite creating a new federal holiday for themselves last week, Congress is currently hunkered down, with the House and Senate grinding through a monthslong stretch.
Lawmakers say they are trying to draft Biden’s radical “infrastructure” ideas into bills that could actually be signed into law.
Perhaps not since the drafting of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago have Democrats in Washington tried a legislative lift as heavy.
But unlike the immediate aftermath of the 2008 election, in which they secured a filibuster-proof 60 vote super-majority, they do not have the luxury of a clear mandate following last year’s election.
That means, at the very least, it’s going to take a while, and many of Biden’s promises, driven by demands from the leftist fringe, may never come into fruition.
“Passing legislation is not a made-for-TV movie,” said Phil Schiliro, a former legislative affairs director at the Obama White House and veteran of congressional battles, including over the health care law.
Biden appears comfortable in this space, embarked on an agenda in Congress that’s rooted in his top legislative priority—the $4 trillion “build back better” investments now being shaped as his American Jobs and American Families plans.
To land the bills on his desk, the president is relying on an old-school legislative process that can feel out of step with today’s fast-moving political cycles and hopes for quick payoffs.
Democrats are anxious it is taking too long and he is wasting precious time negotiating with Republicans, but Biden seems to like the laborious art of legislating.
On Monday, Biden is expected to launch another week of engagement with members of both parties, and the White House is likely at some point to hear from a bipartisan group of senators working on a scaled-back $1 trillion plan as an alternative.
At the same time, the administration is pushing ahead with the president’s own, more sweeping proposals being developed in the House and Senate budget committees, tallying as much as $6 trillion, under a back-door reconciliation process that could enable Democrats to pass it on their own without any GOP votes.
Thus far, however, it is far from clear that moderate Democrats such as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., or Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will be on board with the massive spending programs as both states are being devastated by Biden’s other aggressive policy shifts.
Arizona is facing a major onslaught of illegal immigrants at the border, while Biden’s hostile policy toward fossil-fuels could ruin West Virginia’s coal-based economy.
Initial votes for the bills are being eyed for late July.
“This is how negotiations work,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said during last week’s twists and turns of the infrastructure negotiations.
“We continue to work closely with Democrats of all views—as well as Republicans—on the path forward. There are many possible avenues to getting this done, and we are optimistic about our chances,” Bates said.
During his administration, President Donald Trump had the full sweep of Republican control of the House and Senate for the first two years of his tenure, but the limits of legislating quickly became clear.
Trump—who prided himself and was elected on the basis of his status as a Washington, DC, disrupter and political outsider—tended to govern by tweet, rather than the more traditional legislative process, bursting out with policy ideas and official administrative positions often at odds with his party in Congress.
The Trump-era results were mixed, and Republicans were unable to clinch their top legislative priority, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. But they went on to secure a sizable achievement when Trump signed the GOP tax cuts into law at the end of 2017.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is a leader of today’s bipartisan negotiations, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump, too, proposed an infrastructure package. If Biden sticks with the bipartisan talks he could not only fulfill a campaign promise but “keep his pledge of doing things across the aisle and getting something done,” Portman said.
“Everybody wants to do infrastructure,” he said.
But instead, Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar proposal has sought to expand the semantic definition of infrastructure in order to slip other agenda items through the budgetary process in violation of longstanding rules that Democrats once stood behind.
Even as Biden reaches for a bipartisan deal, skeptical Democrats are wary of a repeat of 2009, when Barack Obama was president and they spent months negotiating the details of the Affordable Care Act with Republicans.
Eventually Democrats passed the package that became known as “Obamacare” on their own, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi notoriously declaring of the massive omnibus package, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Lawmakers also have been energized by the speed at which Congress was able to approve COVID-19 relief—the massive CARES Act at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and more recently Biden’s American Rescue Plan in February.
While Republicans objected to much of the pork spending in the proposals—saying only about 10% of the bill was used for its intended purpose to help with COVID relief efforts—few objected to another round of stimulus checks, which had been widely popular during the Trump administration also.
They are eager for swift action on these next proposals. But one faces particularly grim prospects: Democrats’ effort to ensure political advantages for themselves by passing the HR1 election overhaul. Despite the long odds, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer was determined to press forward.
The Senate has set a procedural vote Tuesday on the so-called “For the People” Act, a blatant power-grab that the White House has called a “cause” for the president. Democrats are working on changes that they hope could win moderate Manchin’s support, but they’d still need 60 votes to advance the bill unless Manchin and others opposed to ending the filibuster suddenly relent.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki repeated the dishonest spin that Democrats have maintained, claiming that the bill would increase voter access, despite the serious concerns it would raise about election integrity following widespread evidence of vote fraud in the 2020 election.
“I wouldn’t say we expect there to be 10 magical votes to appear from the Republicans in the Senate,” Psaki told “CBS This Morning” on Monday.
“They’ve been pretty clear that they don’t want to make it easier to vote, they don’t want to make it more accessible to vote,” she spun. “So this is just a first step, we’ll see where it goes. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of days.”
Biden’s strategy this time is a two-part approach. He is trying to secure a bipartisan deal on roads, bridges and broadband—the more traditional types of infrastructure—while also pursuing the broader Democratic priorities package.
The budget committees are preparing some $6 trillion in spending on what the White House calls the human infrastructure of Americans’ lives with child care centers, community colleges and elder care in Biden’s plans, adding in Democrats’ other long-running ideas.
Among them, expanding Medicare for seniors with vision, hearing and dental services, and lowering the eligibility age to 60.
Regardless of whether Biden succeeds or fails in the on-again-off-again talks with Republicans, Democrats will press on with their own massive package, the president at least having showed he tried.
“There are two kinds of negotiation,” said Democrat Barney Frank, the former congressman and committee chairman from Massachusetts who was central to many Obama-era legislative battles. “One that will be successful and give you a good bill,” he said, and the other that will be unsuccessful, but will at least “take away any stigma of being partisan.”
Congress is eyeing an end-of-summer deadline to launch the budget reconciliation process, which would allow passage of the bills on majority votes instead of the usual 60 needed for most legislation. The Senate is split 50-50, but Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.
As the process drags on, it’s a reminder that it took more than a year in Congress to pass Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in spring 2010.
“Tweets are so easy,” Schiliro said. “Legislating is different from that, so to develop good legislation takes time.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press