Joe Biden likes to say “it’s never a good bet to bet against the American people.”
I would expand that to say it’s never a good bet to bet that Congress will get anything done…on any issue.
If the president was wagering that he could beat the odds, he’s going to lose all his chips.
Reporters love to cover process stories: Lawmakers met at the White House. Leaders are optimistic about a breakthrough. The Gang of Eight, or Nine, or Ten is making progress on the bill. That suggests a more hopeful outlook.
And then, almost invariably, the effort collapses. The deal falls apart, One side walks away from the table. There’s an impasse in the final days. And — here’s a safe bet for you — nothing gets done.
On issue after issue, Beltway paralysis is as predictable as the cicadas that emerge here every 17 years and are currently making everyone miserable.
Infrastructure? Check. Police reform? Check. Immigration? Check. Guns? Check. January 6th commission? Check. All the other programs embedded in Biden’s $4 trillion in additional spending? Check, check and check.
As Casey Stengel once said of the hapless New York Mets, can’t anyone here play this game?
Now, Biden is acutely aware that the Republicans are determined to block his agenda, which they view as hard-left and fiscally reckless. He set an informal deadline of Memorial Day so he wouldn’t be mired in endlessly pointless talks.
But he had to at least go through the motions of negotiating with the GOP to meet the demands of bipartisanship by the two most moderate Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema. The idea was that if he hit a brick wall, they would provide the 49th and 50th votes for a party-line victory, as with the big Covid stimulus package passed through budget reconciliation.
The Republican plan came in at $568 billion, limited to such asphalt projects as roads and bridges. Biden cut $600 billion from his bill, dropping it to $1.7 trillion, but simply moving many of the programs into other measures.
This proved to be a bridge too far. And now they’re stuck.
That’s why you have these suddenly downbeat assessments in yesterday’s papers.
New York Times: “Negotiations in Congress over some of President Biden’s key priorities are facing new headwinds, dimming Democrats’ hopes that they might be able to overcome the partisan gridlock that has come to define Washington.”
Washington Post: “The White House’s hopes for meaningful policy achievements hinge on a handful of critical ongoing negotiations, centered mainly in the Senate, and each of those is now struggling to move forward.”
But here’s the thing. All these issues were always facing headwinds and struggling to move forward. Biden still wants to go big and the Republicans are willing to go small at best.
Take the House passage of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot. Kevin McCarthy named a Republican lawmaker to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi, and most of the terms were worked out, but the political winds shifted and the minority leader ended up opposing the idea. Even though 35 House Republicans defected, Mitch McConnell belatedly joined the opposition, and the measure looks doomed in the Senate.
With one party moving further left and the other further right — and with Donald Trump still the leader of the GOP — there is little common ground anymore. And in the digital age, parties don’t have the clout they once wielded to make their members toe the line.
That’s why the so-called moderates on both sides get outsized media attention. But most of the time they just can’t deliver. You can bet on that.