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Democratic divisions widen even as Biden’s Covid-19 relief package advances


The party’s fragile internal peace, which Biden and his team have strived for with great care since winning the Democratic nomination last year, has suffered a double blow in the past 24 hours, as moderates clashed with the progressives in the Senate, placing the White House. “American Rescue Plan”, a big ticket to legislative purgatory on the eve of its planned adoption.

While still likely to be successful on an online party vote, the form and scope of the bill remained an open question overnight, as West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, voted for a Republican amendment that would cut unemployment benefits further than Democrats believed earlier today was a compromise with support from all ranks. Manchin ultimately backed the amendments from both sides, a bizarre but ultimately meaningless bipartisan move that will be erased from the books when the bill becomes law and the Democratic majority version wins.

Manchin’s eleventh hour deliberations and an earlier vote on a separate amendment, proposed by Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour – which was, as expected, rejected – sparked a storm among progressive groups and their allies. The clashes highlighted persistent divisions within the party, exposed the fragility of its slim Senate majority, and heralded more visceral fights to come, such as the ongoing clash over a comprehensive new voting rights bill. and electoral integrity passed this week to legislation that will require the Senate’s 50 Democrats to team up with ten Republicans.

Conflicts between the party establishment and its progressive wing have been overshadowed by the Trump-era Republicans’ civil war, which gave the White House space to promote a relief bill that even where it does not meet the hopes of most liberals, includes a series of ambitious objects defended by the left.
When a provision that would raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour was rejected by the Senate parliamentarian, who declared it banned under so-called budget reconciliation rules Democrats are using to pass the bill Broader law, progressives moaned and sent pissed off tweets. They half-heartedly lobbied the White House to quash the parliamentarian, but stopped threatening to deny their support for the underlying relief legislation. Ditto for another case, motivated by the moderate reluctance of senators, which tightened eligibility for stimulus checks. Progressives made noise about the deal, which strayed from Biden’s campaign promise of checks for all, but did not stray from the relief package.

Progressives seem unlikely to be this easygoing in the next battle – and there are more than a few on the horizon.

A new phase

Time seems to be running out on the ‘team player’ phase of Biden’s young presidency. The next one on the role of the Democratic majority is an infrastructure spending package that will again lead to disputes over how and how much to spend – this time with both sides of the party’s ideological divide entering the negotiations feeling they owe it to themselves. os after agreeing to concessions on the relief bill.

Climate activists, who are the most politically powerful outside progressive groups, believe – and expect – that the next round may represent their last best chance of securing the kind of public investment needed to kick-start a crisis. new clean energy saving. But in a party that is all over the map on issues like fracking, and given the makeup of this Congress, supporting such transformative investments will require a number of powerful figures – Manchin, again, is coming. in mind – to acquiesce to demands greater than anything in the pending relief bill.

As Democrats moved closer to passing the current legislation, the Senate began late Friday a process known colloquially as the vote-a-rama, which allows lawmakers on both sides to propose amendments, usually as a way to troll the other side. or put their rivals on the spot on contentious, albeit unrelated, issues. Despite its cheerful nickname, the practice can be grueling and functions primarily as an opportunity for the minority to erase or, at least, slow down the majority’s efforts to pass the desired legislation and put them on the record for campaign spots. ‘next year.

Less typical, especially in such a divided chamber, is the prospect of a member of that majority breaking with his own party and in doing so draining political capital from the new president. Enter Manchin, who apparently never agreed to an intra-party compromise touted by the White House hours earlier that lowered monthly federal unemployment payments from $ 400 to $ 300 in exchange for extending the program in September and the non-taxability of the first $ 10,200 in employee benefits.

By the time Democrats announced another deal on unemployment benefits, presumably to bring back Manchin, that deal had been amended to restrict who those benefits would not be taxable and to reduce the time allotted to the end date of the unemployment benefit. September.

With that, the White House released a statement, from press secretary Jen Psaki, explaining the details before it comes to this.

“More importantly, this deal allows us to move forward,” she said, “on the urgently needed US bailout, with $ 1,400 in relief checks, the funding of which we need to complete the vaccine rollout, open our schools, help those suffering from the pandemic, and more. “

The fights to come

Democratic heartburn has also erupted, in a more visceral way that suggests harsher clashes to come, following the defeat of Sanders’ amendment to more than double the federal minimum wage.

Legislation to raise it from $ 7.25 an hour to $ 15, which was included in Biden’s original package but dismissed after the Senate parliamentarian’s decision, has been a sticking point for progressives for decades. years. Rhetoric met reality on Friday when Sanders tabled his amendment, where he encountered bipartisan resistance.

The eight Democrats who joined Republicans in voting against him were almost immediately criticized by progressive groups and their allies, like Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who is running for the Democratic state Senate primaries in 2022. .

“Every senator who voted against a minimum wage of $ 15 today should be forced to live on $ 7.25 an hour so that he can show us all how it is possible,” Fetterman said in a statement. , before calling on opponents of the proposal “deeply out of touch” and accusing dissenting senators of “turning their backs on workers”.

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat who voted against the measure, has been particularly criticized by the left, who seized a video of her making a curiously flashy gesture. the eye to record his vote. In the early evening, a political action committee founded by former aides of Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York released sound for a radio ad, due to air next week in Arizona, excoriating Sinema, who is not re-elected until 2024.

Sinema in a statement after her vote insisted she was open to an increase in the minimum wage, but not through the reconciliation process Senate Democrats are using to push Biden’s relief bill forward. on Covid.

“Senators from both parties have shown their support for the federal minimum wage increase and the Senate is expected to hold a public debate and amendment process on the minimum wage increase, regardless of the reconciliation bill focused on the COVID, ”the Arizona Democrat said.

But the reality is more complicated.

Sinema was just one of eight to vote against the amendment, with others including secure Democrats like Delaware Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, the latter being closest to Biden’s allies in the Senate.

While their votes sparked less militant fury, they could offer more solid indicators of the position of the moderate party establishment and a better fixed point from which to see the fights ahead – especially over the fate of the legislative obstruction and, with it, the voting rights and electoral legislation that were passed in the House last week.

The fate of the For the People Act, although it appears to be a distant star amid the current uproar, is another looming question with no practical and noticeable answer in the Senate.

What is clear is that this is a non-starter in a chamber that demands that most laws reach a threshold of 60 votes. Democrats could change the rule if all 50 senators agreed, but at least a handful are openly hostile to the prospect – even after former President Barack Obama called it “a relic of Jim Crow” last year. To eliminate – and Biden did. showed no indication he would support, let alone the whip’s votes to end it.

But in an announcement that barely caught on in a concerned Washington earlier on Friday, Democratic Senator from Minnesota Tina Smith announced that she had “made a decision” and joined the ranks of those who were prepared to abolish the systematic obstruction. His decision may not have caused much fanfare, but as Democrats chart their course, history may well judge the most important moment of the day.

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