WITH THE White House and the two chambers of Congress — the Senate and the House of Representatives — under Democratic control, you’d think that President Joe Biden has got it made. Wrong!
Biden seems like he’s lost control of both chambers and it doesn’t seem like he’d break the impasse soon… or perhaps, much later. At stake is Biden’s legislative agenda, which is causing a lot of infighting among the Democrats.
Let’s take a look at the issues. The Senate, which is divided 50-50 between the Democrats and Republicans, is headed by Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris who presides over it as Senate President. She holds the tie-breaking vote, which gives a one-vote advantage to the Democrats, assuming that all the Senators would vote along party lines, thus ending with a 51-50 vote, which would make the Democrats very happy.
But the problem is that there are two Democratic senators who have their own agenda. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have been following a thorny path in carrying out their legislative responsibilities… or to put it more bluntly, their hidden agenda. And what is surprising is that they don’t want to do away with the filibuster, which makes you wonder, why? The Democrats need ten Republicans in the Senate to pass a measure to avoid a Republican filibuster. But the Democrats couldn’t even muster 50 of their own, with Manchin and Sinema going on their own on a lot of things.
Another problem is that President Biden wants to preserve the filibuster, which would require a 60-vote threshold to pass a bill. Biden keeps on saying, “We need to work together in a bipartisan way.” But the Republicans had made it clear that they’ll block every bill with a filibuster. Now, I can understand why the Republicans love the filibuster. It’s their most effective weapon.
Lately, Biden – obviously sensing that the Republicans will use the filibuster to prevent the Democrats from passing their bills — said that he was open to ending the Senate filibuster so Democrats could pass voting rights legislation, raise the federal debt limit and possibly enact other parts of his agenda that has been blocked by Republicans. However, he said ending the filibuster would have to wait until he secured passage of his spending bills, which are currently being negotiated on Capitol Hill. He said he would lose “at least three votes” on his social policy bill if he pushed ending the filibuster, which makes one wonder: Why are some Democrats against ending the filibuster? It’s their only ticket to getting to where they want to go. However, he said that once the debate over the spending bills was over, he would push for ending the filibuster to pass the voting rights legislation.
Playing “hard to get”
But right now, Biden’s agenda is being stymied by the two recalcitrant senators – Manchin and Sinema – who continue to play “hard to get” with their fellow Democrats. They know that they hold the two votes to complete the 51-50 winning combination in the Senate. And they’re giving Biden a hard time in achieving his legislative agenda, which would doom his presidency if they continue to play hardball.
Climate change, which is one of Biden’s top priorities, is being undermined by Manchin and Sinema, who have combined their efforts to thwart Biden’s ambitious climate programme.
Manchin has already scuttled the centerpiece of Biden’s legislative climate agenda, a $150-billion programme that would have rewarded energy producers that switched to renewable sources of power. He also wants to impose a fee on the emission of a potent greenhouse gas, methane. Why is he doing this?
If Biden fails to deliver his legislative goals, it would encourage the Republicans to challenge Democratic legislators in next year’s midterm elections. It could then pave the way for Trump to return to the political arena, with an eye towards the 2024 presidential election. And at the rate the Democrats are fighting among themselves, they could lose control of both the Senate and House of Representatives in next year’s midterms.
Sabotaging Biden’s presidency
Meanwhile, Sinema’s behavior has made her fellow Democrats cringe. Her demonstration of independence reminds us of the late Senator John McCain who had shown his independence from his fellow Republicans. But Sinema is cut differently. She tries to be a maverick but she’ll never have the maverick persona of McCain. McCain was popular with his constituents, Sinema isn’t.
Sinema frequently had meetings with corporate lobbyists, which evidently show her interest in how they do business. Is she planning to go into lobbying after completing her term in 2024? Or perhaps she’s preparing herself for a lucrative post-Senate career.
Sinema and Manchin have become the biggest threat to Biden’s Build Back Better progressive agenda, which is now hanging in the balance in Congress. With corporate donors rewarding Sinema with checks for thousands of dollars, she turns a deaf ear to Biden’s pleas in spite of hours meeting with her.
Evidently, Sinema is pulling down the Biden presidency, which could spell defeat for the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2022 and Biden – or whoever the Democratic presidential candidate will be — in 2024. It could usher in a Republican administration in 2024 with total control of Congress. All these because of Sinema and Manchin, which make one wonder: What have Sinema and Manchin got to gain? Politically, nothing. Personally, a lot.
At 74, Manchin would probably retire at the end of his term in 2024 to concentrate on his coal brokerage business Enersystems, which he founded in 1988. He also has investments in real estate and other ventures.
At 45, Sinema is admittedly a bisexual and a strong advocate of LGBTQ rights. She was elected Senator of Arizona in 2018 and her term will end in 2024. At the rate she’s infuriating her constituents, it’s doubtful if she’d run for reelection. There’s too much bad blood spilled already.
Because of their obstruction to the Build Back Better bill, which was substantially reduced from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, Sinema and Manchin have become pariahs in Democratic circles, although their colleagues remain on friendly terms with them. The last thing they want to do is drive them out of the Democratic Party to the warm embrace of the Republican Party. That would be disastrous especially in the Senate where the Republicans would have a 52-48 majority, enough to stop Biden’s legislative agenda from progressing.
In the final analysis, the Democrats seem to have a problem of getting their act together. They know that what they’re doing would end in losing control of both chambers of Congress come 2022. Yet they continue with their infighting. Manchin knows that he’d lose his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Sinema would lose her chairmanship of the Government Operations and Border Management Subcommittee and the Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation subcommittee. But there must be something more important than all these assignments. Ego perhaps?