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Analysis: The two political truths Joe Biden can’t ignore

Those two lessons are the fixed points of US politics in Washington, which is more than a decade into its current paralysis.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be exceptions. Perhaps Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski will get on board with the stimulus relief in the Senate, now that it helps her state a little more. That doesn’t exactly signal GOP support. Perhaps Sens. Tim Scott and Cory Booker can find a workable police reform proposal in the Senate. Without a Republican in the White House pushing for it too, it would be a surprise.

Here’s the proof for David’s theory. I’m going to list a few things here and it should be very simple to identify what binds them together.

  • Police reform passed the House. The bill, named for George Floyd, would ban chokeholds, among other things. The vote was 220 in favor to 210 opposed, with two lawmakers not voting.
  • Election reform passed the House. The “For the People” Act is meant to update the Voting Rights Act. The vote was 220 in favor to 212 opposed.
  • Covid relief passed the House. The House version would give checks to some Americans and extend unemployment for people hurt by the pandemic. The vote was 219 in favor to 212 opposed, with one lawmaker not voting.

See it yet?

These might not all be strict party-line votes, but they are extremely close. The party line is the only thing happening.

Split in the House. The current House breakdown is 221 Democrats to 211 Republicans, with three vacancies. That’s about as close to an even split as you’re likely to see in the House.

Split in the Senate. Now apply that down-the-middle split on these major pieces of legislation to the Senate, where the two parties each have 50 votes. The custom of Senate rules requires 60 votes to cut off debate on anything, which means almost everything is fair game right now.

Bottom line. No major legislation is going to happen unless lawmakers get creative or change the rules.

But Democrats can’t change the rules. Democrats don’t have complete unity, which means they’re two votes short of ending the filibuster. Even if they weren’t, Biden — who was a creature of the Senate for decades before moving to the executive branch as Barack Obama’s vice president — is cool to the idea.

“His policy has not changed on that issue,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “He believes that there is a path forward to work with Democrats and Republicans to get business done for the American people, and he’ll continue to make that case.”

Epiphanies are unpredictable. Perhaps Biden will have an awakening to changing Senate rules after a few months of trying to get anything substantial done with just 50 Senate votes. Republicans certainly haven’t had the post-Trump epiphany Biden predicted.

That’s why Democrats are using budget reconciliation, which is meant to help balance the federal budget, to get their stimulus relief through.

Budget busting through budget reconciliation. Set aside the irony that budget reconciliation has become the go-to strategy for both parties to pass legislation that does the extreme opposite of balance the budget.

Republicans used reconciliation to pass budget-busting tax cuts during the Trump administration.

Democrats used it to pass the Affordable Care Act under Obama, which did provide access to care but hasn’t always been affordable and certainly didn’t solve the deep problems ailing our health care system.

Anyway.

The point here is that while Biden came to the White House promising to work across party lines and begging both sides for unity, we are still stuck in the same House passes -> Senate fails -> repeat cycle, and it persists no matter who is in charge.

Related shenanigans. Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is making the Senate clerks read aloud the entire $1 plus trillion Senate version of the Covid relief bill. Which I guess is a win for transparency. But clerks reading bills aloud is a relic of a time before mimeography, much less PDF files. Anyone can read it. Read it right here. Making the clerk do it out loud is just a delaying tactic.
That will precede a massive game of Senate chess known as a “vote-a-rama,” where Republicans try to attach “poison pills” to the bill before it passes. Here’s everything you need to know about that, from CNN’s Paul LeBlanc.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers have a deeper look at Johnson here. The Wisconsin senator is diving deeper into Trumpiness and election rejection as he faces reelection in a state that narrowly rejected Trump.

It includes this quote, which pretty much sums up Johnson’s worldview at the moment: “I think it’s obvious that I’m target number one here,” Johnson told CNN. “People are out to destroy me.”



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