A Moment of Truth Arrives for Biden and the Democrats

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Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Crunch time has come to the other Washington.  Democrats must use their tenuous majorities in Congress to deliver, or American voters in 2022 will deliver the same midterm “shellacking” that the D’s endured in 1994 and 2010 when they last controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Key members of our local Congressional delegation will play pivotal roles.

Alas, as the late Rep. Morris Udall once put it, “When we Democrats form a firing squad, we tend to form it in a circle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set a Sept. 27 vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed by the Senate on a bipartisan vote. At the same time, however, House progressives threaten to block the infrastructure package unless both Houses of Congress have given go-ahead for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation program.

The 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus is chaired by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Seattle Democrat who holds perhaps the safest seat in the U.S. Congress.  The left is digging in its heels against calls by moderate Democrats to trim the plan.  “Let’s be clear: $3.5 trillion WAS the compromise,” Jayapal tweeted earlier this week.  “It WILL be $3.5 trillion,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, chimed in on CNN. Sanders had earlier added up a wish list totaling $6 trillion.

The infrastructure plan contains what Sen. Maria Cantwell has described as “desperately needed investments” for this Washington. We are a state famous for creaky and collapsing bridges. Our bridges would get an estimated $605 million under the Senate-passed plan. The state would benefit from $4.7 billion in aid to highways, $1.79 billion for public transportation, $71 million over five years for electric-vehicle charging stations. 

The definition of “infrastructure” is broad enough to send our way $100 million for broadband internet access to 214,000 customers who don’t have it. The legislation provides $8 billion to help beleaguered Western states with fire suppression. A billion dollars in grants is allocated for states to remove, replace, and restore culverts important for salmon runs. It gives a sizeable $172 million boost to the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Program.

Build Back Better is a vastly bigger, filibuster-skirting cradle-to-grave program to create a more just human infrastructure.  How would it be paid for?  Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, delivered a three-word answer in the gown she wore to the Met Gala in New York: “TAX THE RICH.”  (AOC was a guest and did not pay the $30,000 admission cost.) A more sedate President Biden fleshed out the argument earlier this week with the much-repeated argument that 39 mega-corporations have reaped $122 billion in profits thanks largely to the Trump tax cut, while paying no federal income taxes.

Under the budget reconciliation plan, the government would fund pre-school for 3 and 4-year-olds.  The child tax credit, created in the coronavirus American Rescue Act, would be made permanent. Two-year community college tuition would be free.  Pell Grants for other students would grow. Medicare coverage for older Americans would be expanded.

The federal government would grow more under Build Back Better, and help more people, than anything passed since the New Deal. It is a vastly ambitious agenda, considering that Democrats hold just 220 seats in the 435-member House, and the 50-50 split in the Senate is broken only by the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Anything they hope to get done requires the support of everyone, yet the signs of discord are growing.  Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Kirstin Sinema, D-Arizona, moderates from conservative-leaning states, have balked at the $3.5 trillion pricetag. During a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup, three moderate Democrats refused to support an amendment providing that Medicare negotiate drug prices with big pharma.

If one word sums up the Democratic left, it is “Demand.” Persuasion and patience are not its forte. When Cantwell moved on to become top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, Manchin was in line to fill the job on Senate Energy and Natural Resources. Our “green” Gov. Jay Inslee demanded that Senate Dems pick someone else, but Manchin got the job and now chairs the committee.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, author of the Green New Deal resolution, recently charged on Twitter that Sen. Manchin “has weekly huddles w/Exxon & is one of many senators who give lobbyists their pen to write so-called ‘bipartisan’ fossil fuel bills.”

Asked on CNN’s State of the Union if he huddles with the oil giant, Manchin replied: “Absolutely not.” The charge from AOC came just as Senate Democrats were agreeing to a new voting rights bill and sending Manchin on the futile mission of selling it to Republicans.  Manchin’s vote is necessary for any move to scrap the filibuster and pass the voting-rights legislation.

Jayapal may chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but Reps. Suzan DelBene and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., head the larger, more mainstream New Democrat Coalition.  Unlike Jayapal and AOC, many of its members represent swing districts.  Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., in 2018 flipped a House seat in Republican hands for 36 years.  She won by 15,000 votes in 2020 against a little-known GOP opponent, and is targeted in 2022 by a Republican “Flip the 8th” campaign.

Meanwhile, Jayapal has positioned herself as a premier defender/advocate for America’s disadvantaged, but was rocked last week by a Buzzfeed investigative article. It depicted her in detail  as a congressional boss from hell. The piece relayed figures on rapid staff turnover, underpaid young aides working exhausting hours, and aides upbraided by the boss in front of others.‎ Is her high profile leading to  hubris, and will it hurt Jayapal’s effectiveness in the budget battle

When it has faced competitive races, the left has lately taken its lumps from voters.  Mainstream Democrats have won special House elections in Louisiana and Ohio.  The loser in Ohio was Nina Turner, a leading – and obnoxious — Bernie Sanders surrogate in 2016 and 2020.  Democrats in New York City nominated a former police captain, Eric Adams, who preached public safety and is unabashedly pro-business.

A London School of Economics student turned musician, one Michael Philip Jagger, coined the lyric “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” He was defining the American legislative process.  Demand everything and you risk ending up with nothing.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., up for reelection next year, hailed the Senate’s infrastructure package as “a truly historic investment in American families.” She cited such measures as a switchover from diesel to electric-powered school buses, construction of electric ferries, and badly needed upgrading of the nation’s electric power grid to withstand storms, floods, and fires.  Murray is, however, also championing Build Back Better, particularly its provisions to make community college free and expand services supported by Medicare. What if the first bill is blocked in the House by supporters of the second?

Certain programs in the massive budget reconciliation are worth a trip to the mat.  It would make permanent the child tax credit, a major step to reduce poverty in America.  Murray was a force in putting it into the Biden coronavirus rescue bill.

David Brinkley once likened the Democratic Party to a bumblebee, composed of ill-fitting parts but somehow able to fly.  In the Senate, it was the party of Hubert Humphrey and Warren Magnuson, but also oilman Robert Kerr and arch-segregationist James Eastland.  Yet, with tenuous majorities (and Lyndon Johnson’s leadership) it was able to raise the minimum wage and expand public housing.

The party is being pushed by its impatient left, which functions as an echo chamber rather than a big tent.  As seen in Seattle, it is not a movement known for its tolerance. Nationally, however, it must confront a truism voiced by Adlai Stevenson:  The ability to govern is the acid test of politics, the acid, final test.

The Republican strategy is from the playbook used against Obama.  Seek to block everything, then accuse the Democrats of having done nothing.  Gridlock is the GOP’s friend.  House Republicans leaders vow to oppose the infrastructure legislation even though 19 Republican senators (including Mitch McConnell) voted for it.

This raised the spectre: Do the Democrats, by their divisions, dare to boost prospects of a House of Representatives run by camp followers of Donald Trump, with the ineffable Kevin McCarthy as Speaker? One answer to that question: There’s nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus the mind. 

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I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Spot on, Joel. The art of compromise is lost when rigid ideology rules and intolerance of other ideas is the daily MO. That said, the extensive and complex American Families Plan has crucial elements we should not delay, including expanded child care and preschool for our three- and four-year-olds. Want to successfully address the inequities we see in education, criminal justice, economic opportunity, and health? The research evidence is clear, start in the crucial prenatal-to-five years just like our peer countries worldwide do very effectively. The U.S. lags far behind the UK, Canada, Australia, and some Western European countries when it comes to family supports in these early years.

  2. Joel, Enjoyed the read……..Can’t imagine why ANY democrat would be against negotiating prescription drug prices – Can you ?

  3. Nina Turner is ‘obnoxious’? That’s rude bordering on misogynist. It’s so strange we never hear Mitch McConnell called obnoxious, though that there could be a more derisive, evil and OBNOXIOUS person in power, is unlikely.
    Nina Turner is a powerful and proud black woman who speaks truth to power. We should be grateful for her voice, and for the solid quality of voices in the Progressive Caucus who are NOT part of the Democrat circular firing squad which good ole Mo Udall so aptly coined.

    “The party is being pushed by its impatient left, which functions as an echo chamber rather than a big tent.”
    Impatient?!!!! (Yes, every ONE of those exclamation points)

    For the last 40 years we have watched the decline of the American Empire…and I don’t mean business. We have witnessed the greatest loss of middle class ever perpetrated on a nation. We have millions drugged on opiates and anti-depressants and anti-anxieties, masses of people living all over the streets and under bridges, an epidemic of theft from car break-ins to billionaires paying no taxes, an unhealthy and obese and mentally ill culture completely dominated by corporate greed, a nightmare of pharmaceutical profiteering (yes, Phil Lofurno, agreed—who in their right mind would oppose negotiating the unbelievable racketeering which goes on ONLY in this nation?), ETC.
    Impatient??
    It is apparently only your male and white privilege which doesn’t see the true reality of the world around you.

    Democrats need to grow their damn courage and blast the nihilistic Republicans (and Manchin-ish Democrats) out of power.

    Criticizing, marginalizing and name-calling the only group of Democrats who have that courage, is suicide, folx. You should stop that immediately.

    • JJ, Actually like Nina T. more than Bernie………….Was surprised by her loss in Ohio. But other members of the extreme Left/Left cause some dems to look for a moderate . Might have become more of a believer if the “Tax the Rich” dress had shown up in a more appropriate setting……..

      • Nina was well ahead in that race until the Establishment switched up their gears and flooded the moderate opponent with greenbacks. Apparently you can make a lot of very persuasive fear-mongering and negative arguments with those great infusions of cash. When the two million dollars drop, and Turner has had the clear lead, it’s pretty obvious how the lead is clawed back with the $$$.
        Not surprisingly, she then lost in a close race.

        As far as AOC goes, respectfully, you should be quite careful to listen to a legislator’s entire and consistent message, check out their voting record, take a metric on their ethics and what they support….and THEN decide if you want to let a beautiful dress dictate your political beliefs and decisions.

        • Agree AOC has many good messages – just don’t think taxing the rich is the answer when 80+% of the taxes collected are from people who make $400,000.00 py. Change the tax laws if needed – reform congress with term limits.

  4. JJ:
    During the 2020 Democratic primary battle, Sanders surrogate Nina Turner was asked by The Atlantic to assess a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Here is her reply to the question:
    “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing. It’s still shit.”
    Obnoxious and boorish behavior has invaded America’s political life as never before. It is not limited by gender or race, or by ideology. The right has its Trump cultists Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Nina Turner keeps them company on the left.

  5. Your delicate sensibilities should toughen up Joel.
    She’s neither obnoxious, nor boorish….she’s straight up truth.
    That statement you quote may have been bawdy, but thank goodness for her risqué, earthy and Rabelaisian disposition—-to speak aloud what many of us have been wondering, harboring for four decades, but few are willing to say.
    She’s just fabulous.
    And do you understand why?
    Because she speaks for those who have become increasingly martyred, silenced, trampled, and marginalized.
    She actually represents and pushes policies we should all be pulling for.
    Your willingness to throw her in with the Trumpets is…..gross.

  6. JJ,
    I hope you see the irony in your comment that you sound exactly like a Trump supporter who saw him as some outsider willing to “drain the swamp”. They too reveled in his off color remarks as signs of him pushing against overreach and fighting for people ignored by those in power. She’s not fabulous. She’s just another idealogue looking to win election by creating division and sowing seeds of animosity. Those are not traits we should all be pulling for

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