WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden threw everything, including the kitchen sink, into his more than $ 2 trillion “infrastructure” proposal – and that, more than any individual policy, has become the main point friction on the plane.
The New York Times accurately reported that a Beltway battle raged over the name: Biden calls his plan the US Jobs Plan; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Calls him a “Trojan Horse.”
The president’s decision to combine a multitude of issues into one proposal – from roads, bridges and broadband to house tax hikes and senior care – is not unusual. This is arguably the most efficient way to enact important legislation in the modern age, and there are numerous examples where both parties have stapled policies together when they have the power and political capital to do so.
“If you look at the postwar congresses, the practice of legislating omnibus has been pretty consistent,” said Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore law school, who was Harry Reid’s senior lawyer. , D-Nev., When he was the Senate Majority Leader.
“The value of this is that you only have to pass a bill once to do a lot of things,” he said. But “the larger the bill, the less attention is paid to every aspect of the bill, which often leads to botched legislation.”
As a senator, Biden sponsored an omnibus crime law in 1994 that cracked down on drug-related offenses while implementing a decadalong ban on so-called assault weapons. Biden reversed his stance on parts of this law – including making certain drug crimes punishable by death – and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party sharply criticized him for creating incentives to convict and imprison more of people.
Because Congress must pass them to make government work, annual supply bills are the most common omnibus measure. But the nature of reconciliation bills, like the recently enacted Covid-19 relief bill by Biden and the Economic Stimulus Act, typically leads to mix-and-match policies. They are designed to make changes to the budget by changing federal spending and taxation.
Even at its first session in 1789, Congress enacted a catch-all spending measure that covered defense, debts owed by the Continental Congress, reimbursements for government employees, and pensions for “invalids”.
Most recently, the omnibus appropriation bill that President Donald Trump enacted shortly before stepping down was over 2,000 pages long and included over 30 sections. He changed federal policies on foster families, Montana’s water rights and carbon monoxide alarms in public housing projects, among other provisions unrelated to the continued operation of the government.
Trump’s signature 2017 tax reconciliation law included a series of rate and credit cuts across all sectors of the economy and for families. Republicans, then in the majority on Capitol Hill, looked into unrelated arrangements to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and raise the cap on oil exploration revenue for the Gulf Coast states.
Sometimes, provisions that were less announced when they were adopted become the flagship articles of catch-all bills.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Combined Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which dealt with topics ranging from supporting tobacco prices to repealing a requirement that Amtrak enter into charter train agreements with rail companies. But the measure is best known for a provision that expands health insurance options for displaced workers that’s simply called COBRA – the acronym for the law’s name.
Former Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., Said it was easy for congressional leaders to rally their caucuses along partisan lines for – or against – massive bills that cover an array of issues. There is enough material for all members of Congress to defend their votes.
“With these big bills, they focus on what’s good for their district or they complain about what’s bad,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, for sure. If Congress was doing its job, it would do it the right way.”
Loading a bill with Democratic priorities in addition to more bipartisan political goals, such as rebuilding roads and bridges, put Biden in danger of capsizing his own plan. A handful of Democratic senators are reluctant to support a measure that does not attract Republican votes.
This means Biden may have to choose between trying to get 60 Senate votes for a clean-cut proposal and trying to fix his own party members to use the filibuster reconciliation process to push through. a bill – which would surely knock out. some of his plans for parliamentary reasons.
This is a familiar situation for presidents facing strongly and almost equally divided Congresses. Most of them had little reluctance to regroup their priorities and hope that the outcome will be enough to keep their party in line. Sometimes this requires adding or subtracting provisions to make the correct calculation.
Biden could end up with nothing. Or he could have it all and the kitchen sink.