Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Biden leaves tangled legislative agenda behind on trip to Europe

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Joe Biden landed in the UK for his first overseas trip as US President on Wednesday to great fanfare, kicking off a busy schedule that will include a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the G7 summit in Cornwall and tea at Windsor Castle with Queen Elizabeth. II.

But while “Hail to the Chief” ushered in the president’s arrival at RAF Mildenhall Air Base in Suffolk, lawmakers in Washington were scrambling to salvage their extensive infrastructure package after Biden canceled bipartisan talks with Shelley. Moore Capito, the Republican Senator from West Virginia. , after weeks of back and forth.

The collapse of negotiations on the eve of Biden’s departure raised new questions about how his ambitious legislative proposals on issues including infrastructure, voting rights, gun reform and energy will become a reality, with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress for the narrowest of margins.

“One of the questions here is whether any of these bills can be changed to get Republican votes,” said Jim Manley, a former senior adviser to Democratic Senators Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy. “Commitment is never a bad word. . . the question here is whether that will be possible. “

The 100 Senate seats are split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, and Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.

But most bills must win the support of at least 10 Republican senators to remove a 60-vote obstruction threshold to become law. Earlier this week, the Senate failed to advance a Democratic bill aimed at narrowing the gender pay gap after it did not receive the endorsement of a single Republican.

On infrastructure, the White House has said that Biden will now turn his attention to working with a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Republicans Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. , to develop a compromise with the objective of attracting the support of legislators from both parties.

But the lack of a bipartisan agreement ahead of the president’s European tour is a disappointment to Democrats and the White House. Many on Capitol Hill remain skeptical that a deal can now be reached, particularly when the two parties remain so far apart in both the size and scope of any infrastructure package, not to mention how to pay for it.

Biden initially introduced a $ 2.3 trillion plan that would be funded in large part by an increase in the corporate tax rate and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Republicans have pushed for a more modest bill and have drawn a “red line” against tax increases.

John Barrasso, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, said Tuesday that he thought it would be “very difficult” for Biden to secure the backing of at least 10 Republicans in any new deal.

But Romney took a more optimistic tone Wednesday, telling reporters on Capitol Hill that “eight or nine” Republicans thought his group of negotiators was “on the right track.”

But Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who also served as Reid’s assistant, doubted enough Republicans would join in any compromise to forge a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Eight or nine Republicans are not going to do it. Eight or nine Republicans are not 10 Republicans. No one has been able to say, ‘Here are the 10 Republicans who would support this bill.’

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that the president will continue to push for a deal, and that members of his cabinet will engage with lawmakers while he is abroad.

“[The president] you are quite familiar with the fact that this process. . . It takes some patience and time, there will be times when we are close to death and then I come back, ”Psaki told reporters on Air Force One on the way to the UK. “This is how policy-making, law-making and bill-making always happens.”

Biden has made clear that he would prefer to achieve at least part of his infrastructure plan through a bipartisan agreement rather than using a Senate convention called reconciliation, which would allow certain laws to advance only with Democratic support.

But Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, acknowledged this week that reconciliation is an option if bipartisan talks fail, or that a separate reconciliation bill can be introduced after a bipartisan agreement is reached.

“It may well be that part of the [infrastructure] The bill that will pass will be bipartisan, and part of it will be through reconciliation, ”Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “But we are not going to sacrifice the greatness and boldness of this bill. We will simply follow two paths and at some point they will come together. “

Skeptics, however, point out that even the reconciliation route remains an uphill battle for Senate Democrats, as a handful of moderate party caucuses, including Manchin and Sinema, routinely side with their parties. Republican colleagues.

Last weekend, Manchin altered the pens of his own party with a newspaper column promising to block a landmark voting rights bill. He has insisted that it is too early to break up bipartisan talks and move forward with a Democratic-led reconciliation bill.

However, Manley said he hoped Manchin would change his mind if the Senate can’t make a breakthrough in bipartisan talks on infrastructure and more measures fail on issues like voting rights and gun control.

“Based on everything I’ve seen, a lot of bills coming out of the House are about to die a slow and painful death in the Senate,” Manley said.

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