WASHINGTON – President Biden set out his ambitious vision for a post-pandemic America on Wednesday evening. Now it is up to Senator Chuck Schumer to make this a reality.
Mr Schumer, a New York Democrat and majority leader, insists he is ready to negotiate with Republicans on the President’s monumental second law, seeking consensus that some of the moderate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, are demanding.
But it’s already clear that the chances of such a compromise are extremely slim, leaving Mr Schumer an extremely difficult path to deliver on Mr Biden’s promises.
As Republicans take extreme shock from the more than $ 4 trillion in new spending proposals outlined by Mr. Biden and offer their own infrastructure package that is only a tiny fraction of the cost, the gap between two parts couldn’t be bigger. Still, a handful of Democrats who could be crucial deciding votes believe it is misguided and politically dangerous to pass such important legislation without the other party’s support.
Mr Schumer said he was prepared to make bipartisan efforts for a while, but with a narrow window to push through any major legislation before the political war of the midterm elections covers any chance of making law. , his patience extends only so far.
“Now look,” he said in an interview this week in his Capitol Leadership Suite, “there are a number of people in our caucus who strongly believe in two-party politics and want us to try that. And it is fair. And we go. And we got off to a good start.
He highlighted some modest measures such as a draft law on water projects which was passed on Thursday with the support of both parties. But on the crucial elements of Mr. Biden’s plan – like tax increases on top incomes and the companies to pay them – there’s no common ground to be found.
As Mr Schumer waits for bipartisanship, he braces for procedural warfare – a prospect increasingly likely given the extraordinary scope of Mr Biden’s emerging agenda.
“If and when it becomes clear that Republicans will not join us in ambitious and bold action, we will move in that direction” without them, admitted Schumer.
Already this year he has shown he is willing and able to push big legislation through the evenly divided House without any Republican backing, as he did when he united Democrats behind the Stimulus Bill. nearly $ 1.9 trillion from Mr. Biden’s pandemic era.
For now, Mr. Schumer places the onus on others to show that they can produce a compromise. Republicans this week presented their own $ 568 billion infrastructure plan, which includes less than a tenth of the amount of new spending Mr Biden has proposed for public works projects. The president praised the effort in his speech on Wednesday, saying he was open to hearing competing ideas, while warning that “the rest of the world is not waiting for us.”
But Republicans dismissed the outreach as insincere, accusing Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer of offering what Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, called a “multibillion-dollar shopping list that was neither designed nor intended to gain bipartisan membership. . “
“We have heard of the so-called jobs plan, filled with punitive tax hikes just when our nation needs a recovery,” McConnell said Thursday. “We heard about the so-called family plan, another gigantic tax and spending colossus.
“Our Democratic friends,” he added, “have become addicted to divide and conquer.”
Mr Schumer, along with Mr Biden and President Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, has not shied away from achieving what he calls “big and bold” achievements while he gets the chance, with the Democrats in charge of Congress and Whites. House – a circumstance that could end in 2022, when Republicans could reclaim House and Senate majorities.
This reality defined Mr. Schumer’s first 100 days just like Mr. Biden’s.
This was evident in early January, when two Georgia Democrats won upset victories, putting Mr Schumer in charge of the Senate with the smallest leeway possible – a 50-50 margin, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as tiebreaker. He said the weight of the task hit him as he paraded returns from Georgia in the wee hours of the morning of January 6.
“I realized the enormous responsibility that rested on our Democratic majority, however narrow it may be,” said Mr Schumer. Democrats were to bring further relief from the pandemic and tackle deep-rooted issues such as racial injustice and climate change while restoring public confidence in elections and government. Events later than January 6 would add to the burden.
Despite the crush, Mr Schumer pushed through the stimulus bill, upheld the president’s cabinet with a single candidate withdrawn, and oversaw an impeachment trial that drew Republican support for Donald J. Trump’s conviction. The infrastructure plan is likely to be just as heavy a weight, requiring a complicated cycle of rotation and negotiation to keep Democrats united and maybe even attract some Republicans.
As he faces Republican criticism in Washington, Mr. Schumer’s calculation is that there is a disconnect between Republicans characterized by Mr. McConnell and Americans – even those who vote with the GOP – who have seen the advantages of the Democratic agenda, such as multiple stimulus checks. during the pandemic, and would like more.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that deliverables really matter,” said Mr. Schumer, who noted that polls showed 60% of Republicans supported legislation to combat the pandemic in the United States. Biden administration enacted in March. “Maybe people are starting to feel, if you look at the numbers, that America’s future is brighter again.”
Mr. Schumer has a theory for what he calls the “dichotomy” between Republican voters and their representatives in Washington.
“Two words: Donald Trump,” said Mr. Schumer, who called the former president a “horrible human being” and called him “a villain, a liar, a bigot, a divider.”
Republican lawmakers, Mr. Schumer said, “are in the grip of Donald Trump, who won’t do anything.”
Known primarily as a political operator and creator of the Democratic Party message for much of his career, Mr Schumer has had to delve deeper into legislative tactics as majority leader. He says he enjoys “the hardest job I’ve ever had” playing the procedural chess needed to maneuver the tickets along the tortuous path through the evenly divided chamber.
It requires seeking and upholding unity within the Democratic ranks, where Mr Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema are among those who have expressed skepticism about breaking through the core elements of Mr. Biden, like a minimum wage of $ 15, and yet another general economic aid. measure, this financed by tax increases.
Manchin praised the president’s speech on Thursday. “Now we just have to see how we can make some – or all – of it work,” he told reporters, citing concerns about how to pay for the package.
Progressives are also pushing for an even more ambitious plan, including an expansion of Medicare promoted by Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and chairman of the budget committee.
While he and Mr Biden did not share a deep personal relationship when they served together in the Senate, Mr Schumer said he and the president were entirely “simpatico” about what needs to be done on the legislative plan.
“We can almost finish each other’s sentences,” Mr. Schumer said. “We both come from, you know, a working class background.”
In anticipation that Democrats will have to go it alone on Mr Biden’s plans, Mr Schumer has requested and received a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian that Democrats could avail themselves several times this year of the special budget reconciliation process that avoids a filibuster and allows the majority to pass tax measures with a simple majority vote. He said parameters for the conclusion, which have not been made public, are still being worked out, but Mr Schumer is fully prepared to go down the path of reconciliation if bipartisan talks are blocked.
“We will explore everything,” he said. “No decision has been made, but reconciliation is clearly on the table.”
If Democrats pursue this strategy, they will have to unite against a rampant attack by Republican criticism and risk a backlash if voters conclude they have exaggerated. Mr Schumer admits it will be difficult, but points out the unity Democrats have already demonstrated.
“So far we have stayed in the fight,” he said. “Is it easy? No. Are there often bumps in the road and detours? Yes. But we have done it – and we will have ambitious and bold action.”