WASHINGTON — Sunday marked a bit of progress among Democrats toward a deal to push through President Joe Biden’s stalled domestic agenda, though Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key vote who needs to be catered to, is now demanding the Hyde Amendment be part of the legislation.
Here’s what seems to be an emerging road forward as the Democratic infighting threatens the Biden presidency:
- Progressives getting their own reality check are conceding that they won’t get the “human infrastructure” bill funded at the $3.2 trillion level.
- Moderates who complained they were double crossed because the House did not hold a vote on a “hard infrastructure” bill Thursday face the reality that even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the bill, there were plenty of progressives who would have blocked it from passing in order to keep it as leverage over Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. This demonstrated the growing power of progressives in the House — and a useful reality check for the Moderates.
- Biden traveled to Capitol Hill on Friday to talk to House Democrats. The president and progressives are now more likely to be talking about the “human infrastructure” in terms what is in the bill — dropping the $3.5 trillion shorthand because — this is reality — this bill can’t be landed at $3.5 trillion.
- Democrats are now better articulating what they want: To lock in and launch most of the programs in the “human infrastructure” bill while Biden is still president and the Democrats control both chambers of Congress. Debate over the price tag and how many years the funding covers is an easier negotiation once there is agreement that the programs should exist.
A reminder: Manchin and Sinema hold enormous power because the Senate is 50-50 and Democrats have no votes to spare. Over in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can afford only three Democratic defectors.
On the table are two bills that are part of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda with inter-related fates.
One is an infrastructure bill — funding for roads, bridges, public transit, airports that already passed the Senate on a bipartisan roll call.
The other is a budget, or reconciliation “human infrastructure” bill, containing provisions dealing with Medicare expansion, prescription drug, dental and vision coverage; child and elder care assistance; immigration reform; climate change, free community colleges tuition and other social safety net provisions that are the heart of Biden’s agenda. No Republican will support this sweeping package.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the number two Senate leader, is the “Whip,” and it’s his job to count the votes.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” anchor Dana Bash asked Durbin about the price tag. Durbin said, “Every vote counts when it comes to getting to this majority. And concessions will be made. And we’re certain of that.”
Durbin was asked how Democrats trim the “human infrastructure” bill — drop certain programs or scale back the entire package.
He was not sure Sunday. “And we have to ask that very fundamental question. Should we do everything to a limited degree or should we really invest ourselves in the most important things and try to make that decision? It’s a hard one.”
On the same show, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said cutting the $3.5 trillion to $1.5 trillion — that’s Manchin’s preference — is “not going to happen.”
“That’s too small to get our priorities in. So it’s going to be somewhere between $1.5 and $3.5, and I think the White House is working on that right now, because remember, what we want to deliver is child care, paid leave, climate change, housing.”
The Hyde Amendment is a provision to ban federal funding of abortions. Manchin insisting on Hyde adds more complexity to the already difficult negotiations.
Implemented in 1977, it is named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde, a suburban Chicago lawmaker and a national leader in the anti-abortion movement. For years now, lawmakers supporting abortion rights ended up voting for bills with the Hyde Amendment because it was attached to must-pass legislation they otherwise supported.
Biden, making good on a June 2019 campaign pledge, excluded Hyde Amendment language in the fiscal 2022 budget request he sent to Congress.
Durbin has been at these Hyde showdowns many times and has voted for bills with the Hyde language.
He may again. “I have to measure it against the value of the package itself.”
Said Durbin, “Build Back Better is the future for many working families. It gives them a chance to finally break away from the inequality in our economy and to have some optimism about the future. So I don’t want to let the entire package break down over that issue.”