WASHINGTON (AP) — With an election in sight and the Democrats’ flagship national bill in a rut, the senses. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer have very different views on how things go in their bedrooms.
“I know we spend the week dealing with assistant secretaries of something or other, and that’s terribly important,” Sanders, the progressive and independent instigator from Vermont, said dryly on Wednesday. The Senate last week confirmed 15 nominees for the Federal Maritime Commission. , judges and other positions.
“It’s been a busy, productive and truly bipartisan week here,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the next morning. The New York Democrat quoted sexual harassment bill lawmakers approved minutes later and progress in addressing violence against women, budget and industrial competitiveness.
The conflicting assessments of how the party is using its time come as Democrats rushed headlong into the limits of running a 50-50 Senate speechless to spare. It highlights a debate about how to balance passion and pragmatism as Democrats woo voters ahead of the November election, when Republicans have a real shot at taking control of the House and Senate.
For some Democrats, it’s time to draw contrasts with Republicans by forcing votes on priorities like helping families pay for health care and fighting global warming. Others see the wisdom in declaring what wins they can and avoiding anything that might complicate efforts to strike deals with their own party’s mavericks on broader priorities.
Democrats have just 49 votes for at least the next few weeks as Senator Ben Ray Lujan recovering from a stroke. Yet even with the New Mexico Democrat, goals like right to voteimmigration and other issues faced strong Republican resistance and failed to gain the 60 Senate votes needed to approve most legislation.
For many Democrats, the grand prize would be to resurrect a smaller version of President Joe Biden’s top national priority: a program of health care, family services and environmental initiatives of approximately 2 trillion dollars over 10 years. Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., effectively killed the measure in December when he said it was too expensive, but said he was open to a more modest alternative.
Democrats have different assessments of how they have used Senate oversight so far.
“It’s no secret that for five months, with the exception of the infrastructure bill, we haven’t met the needs of the American people,” Sanders told reporters last week. Biden signed the bipartisan $1 trillion package of road, water and other projects in November.
Sanders and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said they want the Senate to vote on reducing pharmaceutical prices, one of the popular elements of the bill shelved. Sanders said he would like votes on several of the measure’s components and let Republican opponents explain their votes to voters.
Americans are “outraged” that with rising inflation, the pandemic, climate change and other issues, “their elected officials are just not responding,” Sanders told the Senate.
Democrats “spent Biden’s period of maximum political capital waiting” for a deal that never came on the social and environmental bill, lamented Adam Jentleson, a progressive strategist and former top Senate adviser. Presidents often have the most momentum in the first year or two after taking office.
Underscoring the impatience of progressives, environmental group Evergreen Action launched a 30-second digital ad last week saying that Biden, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “must keep” Democrats’ promises now. to control global warming. operates in two markets: Washington, DC, and Brooklyn, New York, home of Schumer.
Moderate Democrats want achievements also to promote.
“It’s frankly not important to me what we call it,” Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, facing competitive re-election in central Virginia, said of the measure her party calls “Build Back Better”. “It’s important to do something.”
Manchin is an advocate for his state’s coal industry, but said he is open to including tax credits and other measures to address climate change in a revived package that could include restrictions on prescription drug prices and other items.
Still, he said he wants lawmakers to act first on this year’s budget and revamp how Congress counts electoral votes in presidential elections. He also scoffed at the belief that “spending trillions more of taxpayers’ money will solve our problems, not to mention inflation”, signaling that the negotiations will not be easy.
Any deal with Manchin, if workable, should take at least until spring. Many Democrats believe there would be nothing to be gained from quick votes now or other public pressures that might upset him or another party maverick, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
Minutes after Manchin’s December rejection of the bill, which passed the House, White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused him of “breaching his commitments” to Biden regarding the effort support. Schumer promised a vote on the measure “very early” in 2022 so voters know where each senator stands.
That didn’t happen, and Schumer showed no sign of allowing showdown votes now on the bill’s components either. “We continue to have discussions and we will move forward” on the legislation, he said this month.
Schumer said while the differences with Republicans “are real,” Democrats can’t “ignore the real chances of progress” when bipartisanship is possible.
Instead of continuing to openly criticize Manchin, the White House emphasized how the legislation would help voters. Placards promoting him at recent Biden events read, “Cut costs for families,” an unspoken nod to soaring inflation, which has helped his popularity in the polls.
For now, Democrats are hoping for a compromise bill. He could pass with just 50 votes, under special procedural protections that would let them win with the deciding vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I can’t help but think that we’re not so helpless and incompetent that we can’t take advantage” of this opportunity, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writers Chris Megerian and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.