(CNN) — Democrats have an opportunity this week to assert their monopoly on political power in Washington, create a legacy of real importance for President Joe Biden, and even raise their hopes in the grim midterm elections three months from now.
But first they have to push through a climate and health bill that has died again in the Senate, using their slim majority, notably by securing the crucial vote of moderate Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has yet to sign a bill bill that may not save Democrats in November, but at least give them another big victory to run with.
Meanwhile, tensions are running high between the parties, especially over the Republican blocking of a bill that would fund health care for veterans sickened by exposure to mass graves while serving in America’s foreign wars. The move opened up the GOP to accusations of cruelty and, for once, Republican leader Mitch McConnell seemed outmatched.
The weather openness didn’t exist a week ago. But the surprise deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who remains in power, created chances most in the party thought lost. Democrats, who have suffered from repeated stalling of Biden’s legislative agenda, will be desperate to pass the bill this week before the Senate recess slows their momentum.
But there remains at least one great unknown: Sinema’s vote, whose support is as decisive as Manchin’s in the Senate, which is at 50%. Like Manchínhas opposed dismantling filibustering in the Senate to pass other priority bills for Democrats.
She helped reshape Biden’s biggest bill, Build Back Better, before Manchin blocked it last year. But there are now questions about whether she will support tax changes affecting private equity investors in the Manchin-Schumer compromise. As the 50th Democrat needed to pass the measure with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, Sinema wields significant leverage to seek changes that threaten the bill’s fragile foundations, and has so far avoided giving her verdict on the deal. .
Manchin suggested Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he hadn’t spoken to Sinema about the package since agreeing with Schumer. But he paid tribute to the Arizona colleague and to his previous work in lowering prescription drug prices, a goal included in the new bill.
“When she looks at the bill and sees the full spectrum of what we’re doing and all the energy we’re putting into it — all the lowering of prices and fighting inflation by lowering prices, having more energy — I hope it’s positive. about it,” Manchin said. “But she will make her decision. And I respect that.”
Manchin wields his power
Manchin, on television this Sunday, flexed his muscles in the foothold of a deeply divided Senate, turning legislation around, always with an eye toward voters in his deeply red state. Once again, Manchin managed to place his state, one of the poorest and smallest in the country, at the center of Washington politics.
He also used his power to defend centrism at a time when both parties appear to be drawing closer to their more radical grassroots supporters. After repeatedly infuriating Democrats by thwarting Biden’s agenda, he is now disappointing Republicans who hoped he would maintain opposition to him. On Sunday, Manchin insisted his package would reduce inflation, expand domestic energy production, ensure certain corporations pay their fair share of taxes and benefit Americans by lowering prescription drug costs for Medicare patients.
The measure would also earmark nearly $370 billion to fight climate change and develop a new green energy economy, reviving efforts that seemed doomed a few weeks ago by opposition from the coal state senator. If the bill passes the Senate and then the House of Representatives, it would instantly transform Biden into the most committed president to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enshrine his global leadership in the effort to prevent greenhouse gas emissions. more disastrous future effects of climate change. It comes at a time when extreme weather events — from drought in the American West to flooding in Kentucky that have killed at least 28 people — are ravaging the United States.
Climate finance is not the only key Democratic priority in the bill.
The Manchin-Schumer bill, now renamed the “Reduce Inflation Act,” includes expanding Affordable Care Act subsidies that would also cement another key Democratic reform of the 21st century: Obamacare. . These two achievements could help change the perception of the Biden presidency, which, despite some successes, such as the $1.9 trillion covid-19 rescue package and a rare bipartisan infrastructure bill, has seen shipwreck key issues on his agenda in the Senate, such as the right to vote and police reform.
Although passage of the bill may come too late to save Democrats from the painful blow of high inflation in the midterm elections in November, it could squeeze out progressives demoralized by an inability to do more with scarce party’s grip on power in Washington.
Coupled with the mobilization of liberals following the conservative Supreme Court’s overturning of the constitutional right to abortion, and majority public support for gun restrictions following a series of mass shootings, Democrats would at least have a platform to present in November if they can weave a coherent narrative about their achievements.
Though GOP strategists believe the House is already headed their way, according to a new CNN report this weekend, a late bounce in Democratic enthusiasm could spur hopes among party leaders who believe the Senate isn’t a lost cause, especially in the face of a group of candidates in the image and likeness of former President Donald Trump who could scare off suburban voters.
The Republican Party mobilizes to prevent the Democratic victory
Manchin explained this Sunday that he understood the invectives launched at him by many Democrats, and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, after he derailed the previous “Build Back Better” plan on the grounds that it would fuel already skyrocketing inflation, said he hoped the new measure will be approved later this week, when the Senate is scheduled to recess in August.
The calendar remains a tightrope act: A single Covid-19 case among Democratic senators, for example, could fracture the party’s majority, as all Republicans are expected to be against it. Recently there have been several positive tests among the senators who have sent them to isolation, including Manchin.
Defending his deal with Schumer, the West Virginia senator said that “in normal times” Republicans would support the bill as it would reduce the deficit, speed up oil and gas drilling permits and increase energy production. , all of which the Republican Party has previously supported.
But Republican senators are moving to try to block passage of the bill, which would represent a victory for Biden and Democrats before the midterm elections.
“It really seems to me that Joe Manchin has been taken to the cleanup,” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey told Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“Look, this bill, the corporate tax increase, is going to slow growth, probably exacerbate a recession that we’re probably already in,” said Toomey, who is retiring. He argued that controlling prescription drug prices would stop the development of life-saving medicines and that the bill would subsidize “the rich who buy Teslas.”
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said on ABC’s “This Week” that another multibillion-dollar spending bill could inject “an incredible amount of uncertainty” into the economy just as it enters a recession.
This last point is the subject of debate in Washington after the publication of an official report last week that shows a second consecutive quarter of negative growth. The White House insists that, given strong job growth, the economy is not in a classic contraction. In practice, however, the semantics of the interior of the country make no difference to Americans who face much higher food bills than they did a year ago, even if prices at gas stations have fallen somewhat in recent weeks.
Republicans accused of ‘cruelty’ over veterans’ health care
The battle over the climate and healthcare bill will take place in parallel this week with a heated controversy over the GOP’s blocking of a bill that would provide healthcare to veterans exposed to toxic fumes from the pits. combustion chambers, which were used to incinerate waste at military installations during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Activists, including comedian Jon Stewart, accused the GOP of “cruelty” after some senators who voted for an earlier version of the bill voted not to move it forward. Republicans, for their part, accuse Democrats of inserting new spending and complain that their amendments were not included. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said on the “State of the Union” show that a Toomey amendment would put an “annual” cap on what the department can spend on veterans exposed to burn pits and lead to a “rationing of attention”.
Biden, in a FaceTime call from isolation after registering another positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, promised protesters on Capitol Hill that he would fight for the legislation “as long as I have a breath in me.”
However, Toomey told Tapper that he had long opposed the measure, as he wanted the funding to be included in the annual appropriations and not in the mandatory spending column.
He said current legislation would allow Democrats to divert $400 billion to other purposes. And he denied claims that Republicans are holding up the bill to prevent Democrats from scoring another victory, after the closing of the Manchin-Schumer deal, as “absurd and dishonest.”
Yet the fact that Republicans are voting against veterans’ healthcare — regardless of the intricate details of the case — threatens to add to the sense that the party is becoming more extremist. And it also diverts attention from key issues that are likely to sway the GOP’s midterm elections, including inflation, gas prices and Biden’s low approval rating.