Written by Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON () – The battle to pass the COVID-19 relief law showed how difficult things will be for U.S. President Joe Biden’s Democrats in Congress, faced opposition from right and left as they try to achieve big victories with smaller majorities.
Smiling Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Saturday sang praises for democratic unity after his chamber proved a $ 1.9 trillion aid plan for the coronavirus, one of the largest economic stimulus packages ever. He predicted that the House of Representatives would prove it next week, and Biden quickly signed it into law.
But the day before, the Senate was paralyzed for hours when only one Democrat backed his own party’s proposal affecting unemployment benefits. Since no Republican backed the law in the divided 50-50 Senate, progress in legislation ceased to be cold.
Democrats eventually found a solution that satisfied Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. They remained united and took away a multitude of Republican amendments in the all-night session. The Relief Act passed 50-49, and one Republican was not present.
The episode highlighted the advantage of Democrats like a razor.
“This was a reminder yesterday that in the 50-50 Senate, if any member changes his mind about an amendment, a vote or an issue, he can change the outcome,” Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, told reporters.
Coons said it was “extraordinary” that Schumer had assembled a Democratic committee, whose members range from conservatives like Manchin to progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who forms a coalition with Democrats and has twice asked for the party’s presidential nomination.
Some changes to Senate law, such as a reduction in increased unemployment benefits, will upset Progressives in the House. The Democratic majority there has more room for dissidents, with 221 Democrats and 211 Republicans. Despite this, Democrats can only afford to lose a handful of their own and pass on anything.
At least the house rules allow the law to be passed by a simple majority.
As Democrats now turn to other priorities such as infrastructure spending and immigration reform, Senate rules require 60 votes to advance most laws. In general, 50 votes in the Democratic Senate plus the undecided vote of Vice President Kamala Harris will not be enough.
A procedural maneuver called “reconciliation” allowed Democrats to bypass the 60-vote hurdle to boost COVID-19. It allows accounts that affect the level of spending, revenue, and debt by a simple majority.
But the limitations are how often reconciliation can be used and what it can serve, as Democrats learned when a Senate rules expert rejected Biden’s campaign promise to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 as part of the COVID-19 package.
Some progressives have called for a waiver of the 60-vote Senate procedural rule – often called a filibuster – to speed up more laws through the council. But the episode with Manchin showed the limits of that approach. Without him, the Democrats did not have even 50 votes.
Manchin and a fellow Democrat, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, do not support changing the filibuster rules, so there is no majority for it. They say the rule protects the rights of minorities to have the right to vote on legislation.
Biden, who ran for president promising to ease deep political divisions in America, said he would like to reduce the partisan heat in Washington and pass laws with bipartisan support.
After Saturday’s vote, Biden said he believes many Republicans were close to supporting COVID-19.
“I still haven’t given up on getting their support” for future laws, he told reporters.
Biden had a bipartisan meeting last week with members of the House of Representatives on infrastructure spending, another political goal. After the meeting, Republican Representative Sam Graves said his party’s concerns must be taken into account.
“Republicans will not support another Green New Deal disguised as a transportation bill,” he said. The Green New Deal program is supported by progressive Democrats who want to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and invest in renewable energy.
But a party dispute over the COVID-19 law may have poisoned the bipartisan well in the near future.
Republicans say Democrats have not been serious about finding a bipartisan consensus on the coronavirus measure.
“There is a sense that all of Biden’s calls for bipartisanship have been untapped because … the first major law he had to sign was a party law that they pushed through without any real effort to engage Republicans,” said Lanhee Chen, a senior fellow at Hoover University’s institution. Stanford and former chief adviser to Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.
Democrats wondered why Republicans opposed the coronavirus law when the aid had widespread public support.
“As long as Democrats strive to be bipartisan in the eyes of the American people, then they will be forgiven if they have to vote on the party line to move forward an agenda that will help Americans people,” said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson.
But things will probably not make it easier for the current majority for Biden’s Democrats.
“It’s possible that the Democrats’ peak has just been reached, ”said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia.