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Remember “I’m just a bill”?  Here is the 2021 version.


After months of reporting on Democrats-Republicans haggling to pass Biden’s $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill, it got us thinking – the 45-year-old explicator needed more information. So we hired cartoonist Matt Wuerker and the video team to do just that.

Before going into any detail, Wuerker spoke with POLITICO congressional reporter Sarah Ferris to better understand all the extra steps it now takes to pass a bill.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What do people not see or understand about the current process?

If there is a controversial bill, it will be much more than the steps of going to committee and getting to the House. There must be negotiations behind the scenes for weeks, if not months.

It’s so now: what will be the political impact, what is the reason that party leaders are bringing this bill to the floor, and how do you get the votes for him when he’s on the floor?

And it’s not just committees, are there also bipartisan gangs that are part of the process?

Yes, if you think of the Speakers of the House and the Senate, they are both Democrats. Sure, they agree on a lot of things, but the big hurdle Democrats have faced for years is Senate filibustering, that 60-vote margin.

You can’t just ask the Democratic president to write and pass bills and send them to the president. There needs to be bipartite cooperation, and this does not exist in the vast majority of laws.

But are you going to have the two party leaders on the Democratic side and the Republican side sitting in a room and chatting? No. This is why this bipartisan group has fundamentally gone rogue.

Did the old Schoolhouse Rock version of “I’m just a Bill” miss something?

The most accurate version of that Schoolhouse Rock video right now might be about frameworks and proposals and more than the legislation itself. This is what both parties have to agree to before you can even agree to draft a bill.

A Speaker of the House in charge of infrastructure and transport, Peter DeFazio, had prepared this whole bill. He really wanted the Senate to pass his bill instead of his own bipartisan version. Now her bill is nowhere, it’s gone. He will never see the light of day.

These very high-placed committee chairmen like DeFazio who are supposed to have all this power, in the end they don’t really have a say?

They will be working behind the scenes. But they are not the ones who will have the hammer at the end of the day, passing a bill out of committee and sending it to the room. The only way he can speak is if the party leaders on either side can say, “We have the voices to pass this. “

And to add to the complexity, when we talk about the infrastructure bill, we are actually talking about two: the bipartisan infrastructure bill and another $ 3.5 trillion bill that was split because that they realized it would not pass the filibuster. but rather with reconciliation?

Law. It is extremely rare that either party in power is able to put together a package that can actually be signed into law.. But reconciliation is the way to go now. This is the only game in town if you want to have substantial changes in politics. The only other thing that motivates Congress to get things done is a deadline. And the only other way to try to get the bills to the ground is to tie them to some kind of impending government shutdown law “to pass.”

Another concept that has come up that is not part of the Schoolhouse Rock lesson is vote-a-rama. And to go through that process in the Senate, we had a vote — a rama that went on at four in the morning. So what is a vote, a rama?

Anytime a party does not have full majority control of Congress, it will be forced to go through this process whenever it tries to make special budget bills. And it comes with these really obscure rules where every senator can propose unlimited amendments. These votes are all political. It’s basically Mitch McConnell and his members trying to get Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema to vote on any potentially controversial issue.

Think of budget resolution as a checklist for how much money you can spend on certain categories. You don’t have to spend it all, nor do you have to say exactly what it’s going to be used for. Basically, each committee receives a certain amount of money.

In the role of presidents, is there a change from administration to administration? Are some presidents more involved than others in this complicated process?

We have seen a mix of different personalities and how they try to interact with Congress. Former President Donald Trump had a slightly more vinegar approach to his Republican conference. He would threaten members of Parliament outright with not voting for the bills. Former President Barack Obama hasn’t really spoken so much in Congress. He sent Joe Biden to do the dirty work. And then, of course, with Joe Biden in power now, he’s very close to the Senate. His legislative team has spoken daily to all the different groups that he really needs to convince.

What is the biggest misconception the public has about the current legislative process?

I think people think it’s much more of a linear process and that House and Senate officials have more leeway in how they decide to draft these bills. But in reality there are so many invisible barriers.

That’s why Congress ends up going around in circles with all kinds of extensions. You may recognize that something is a problem, but in fact, even the first step towards a solution will never get the votes you need.