“The polls have taught me that they need everything in the plan,” Biden said. “I’m not kidding about that. Everything in the plan.”
With House Democrats preparing to pass a bill next week and Senate Democrats expected to follow suit as soon as possible, this is a moment that underscores the combination of policy, action, and behind-the-scenes, low-key but broad-based work that has almost entirely followed Biden’s lead.
It was an equal effort inside and outside the White House, with the help of Democratic members of Congress who were involved in the proposal’s initial and often sweeping policies. Supporters were helped by the constant positive public questioning that White House officials and Congressional leaders regularly directed at their members-all in an effort to leverage state and district officials and pressure groups that they knew would have influence on Capitol Hill.
Efforts to sell the proposal began early in the process, with Biden’s transition team consulting regularly with key Democratic lawmakers as they developed their plan. Key elements, such as the urgent extension of the child tax credit, a potentially transformative plan, came directly from legislation drafted by Democrats who enjoyed broad support in their congressional ranks. Many of those directly involved recognized that the collapsing crises meant that the time had come to take a big step forward.
By the time Biden took office, his legislative affairs team, made up of several former Capitol Hill staffers whose previous work has earned them considerable bipartisan credibility, was already closely involved in the process.
This continued through the first few weeks of the term. Beginning on February 5, the team met several times a week with House and Senate leaders, directly with 33 members of the House of Representatives, and held discussions with more than 100 key Congressional staffers.
Biden’s aides were also constantly present during the review of each piece of legislation by dozens of House committees to provide technical advice, and on some of the more complex issues, such as the threshold for performance pay, even more so, according to some sources.
The White House is heartened by the widespread Democratic view on Capitol Hill: disappointing the new president on his first legislative initiative has never been an option. Although Democrats have privately complained about certain aspects of the bill-whether it is the overall framework, eligibility for incentives, or the minimum wage increase-most members concede that they will ultimately vote for it.
“It’s all in one place,” a Democratic member of the House of Representatives told CNN. “There are things we want to fix, but we’re not aggressively positioned.” This is the president’s first major package, and there are a lot of people who think this is his first proposal, so with all these factors, people are not aggressively threatening not to vote for him.”
In addition, many senators and staff point out that the vote showed that the bill is popular even with some Republican voters. They also say that the rush of local support from mayors, governors and county boards has made it difficult for Republicans to effectively oppose the bill in their counties.
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Opposition to the GOP
In the Senate, Republican leaders are expected to prove that the process of creating the bill was flawed. Although the bill has been piloted through House committees, it is expected to go directly through the Senate.
“We understand that the Democratic majority, rather than drafting bills in the Senate through regular debate, intends to bypass its own committees and bring House bills directly to the Senate floor and calendar. This would be the first legislative action by Democratic senators in the 117th Congress to outsource their own work to House committees,” a group of Republican senators wrote to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In the House of Representatives, GOP leaders urged their conference to vote “no,” citing several points regarding language related to abortion and the bill’s overall impact on the federal deficit.
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But Democrats say it is easy to defend against legislation that gives people bad checks, access to paid vacation and extended unemployment insurance, and creates no new or controversial programs. Much of the bill promotes or continues programs that many Republicans have already voted for.
Several Democratic sources pointed out that the opposition has made no significant effort to push the plan through-no major outside spending to attack the plan, no pressure from the GOP campaign or interest groups to break the growing bubble of momentum.
This stands in stark contrast to the Democrats’ concerted multi-million-dollar effort in 2017 to try to overturn the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, former President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority.
Many GOP representatives emphasized the difference in circumstances: although health care is a highly polarizing issue, successive polls have made it clear that it is simply not possible to relieve a country facing a dual economic and health care crisis.
“It’s not like we’re looking around and saying, ‘Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Attacking people’s stimulus checks,” a senior GOP official told CNN.
Republicans will oppose the bill from top to bottom for a number of reasons, but the combination of the party still finding its way after Trump’s loss, with a number of proposals that have retained their popularity, inhibits the strength of the opposition, the official said.
The fact that Trump was behind the $1400 in direct payments in the Democrats’ proposal did not escape Republicans, according to many officials.
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From the game.
When Washington was overwhelmed by the impeachment process of Biden’s predecessor, the White House went to great lengths to make it clear that it was not involved and was not paying attention. This was not entirely true – Biden was aware of the process and watched the highlights every night, according to two sources.
But what is true is that Biden’s team was deployed outside the Beltway.
Over a three-week period, there were 70 appearances by senior government officials and deputies on local television. The meeting in the Oval Office between Biden and a bipartisan group of governors and mayors received wide coverage in the local press.
The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs held a series of briefings with hundreds of officials from states, local governments and tribes.
All of this contributed to the White House’s strong belief that politics was on their side, as several advisers made clear. And not only would supporters be politically rewarded, but opponents-the Republicans in Congress-would lose.
In a memo to senior White House officials listing several recent polls, Mike Donilon, one of Biden’s closest advisers, said of the opposition, “Instead of congratulating them, this approach has done them a lot of damage.
“Voters are suffering – and they are looking for leaders to come up with plans and solutions,” Donilon wrote in a Feb. 16 memo obtained by CNN. “This is not the time in the country when filibustering is rewarded.”
It is a position that Republicans disagree with. Even moderate Republicans have not considered rejecting Biden’s plan, and the rigid nature of the White House position has led many GOP senators to question whether Biden was serious about bipartisanship at all.
White House officials say he is and will continue to look for ways to negotiate with Republicans. But they see no signs that abandoning Republicans over the first piece of legislation will somehow poison future negotiations.
the obstacles ahead
In an effort to reach a consensus quickly, according to the aides and members, the decision was made quickly to draft a bill very close to the U.S. Biden bailout plan. It was decided from the outset that it would take too much time to set up the committees from scratch and could lead to unnecessary dissension among Democrats at a time when unity is paramount.
However, the leadership of the Democratic Party is working closely with its members to build a coalition of support. Mr. Schumer has held individual meetings with party members to try to determine in advance what they need to support the bill.
“The positive is Chuck’s leadership style with this flip phone. Chuck is constantly having informal conversations with House members, which makes it much easier to move a package like this,” said a Democratic senator who spoke in the background about the ongoing discussions on the Covid relief bill.
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Success, however, is not guaranteed. A handful of moderate members have made it clear both privately and publicly that they cannot support legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and Mr. Schumer will need the support of all members to get the bill passed.
“There are not 50 votes that have signed on the dotted line,” the Democratic senator told CNN of the state of negotiations at this point. “I still have amendments in that package that I want.”
Many Democratic supporters and members expect that the $15 minimum wage, currently the biggest obstacle to the bill, will not be allowed under the conciliation clauses-a budget process in which each provision must meet a strict set of rules, but which ultimately allows Democrats to pass a bill through a party-line vote.
“My question is why are we turning on the system and spending time promising people that they will get a $15 increase in the minimum wage when we know it won’t happen,” a Democratic member told CNN.
If a member of the Senate allows this provision to remain in the bill, it could force leaders to make difficult political decisions about whether the time is right for this battle between the parties.
The dangers of relying exclusively on Democrats in the Senate became clear Friday when Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, announced that he would oppose Biden’s choice of the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden. If Tanden cannot gain Republican support – which Democrats are skeptical of – Manchin’s failure to vote would mean the end of the nomination.
It’s a dynamic the White House knows well – Biden and his team have been in close contact with Manchin and his staff in recent weeks.
Hopes for a two-party system dashed ….
At various times, the greatest threat to democratic unity has been the desire of some members to fight for a two-party system. Many members of civil society tried to cling to the idea that there was an intermediate position that could potentially change the final direction of the bill. Before taking office, Mr. Biden himself made it clear that, as a veteran senator for 36 years, he would seek a bipartisan consensus.
They were encouraged by the president’s own lobbying of Republicans and by a high-profile meeting in the Oval Office where Biden invited 10 Republicans to discuss their own ideas directly with him.
A group of moderate Democrats in the Senate has often met with Republican colleagues to try to find a bipartisan compromise, pinning their hopes on happy hours, phone calls and expanding the scope of the aid bill to gain government support, as was the case with previous pandemic aid bills.
But after a group of Republican senators submitted a proposal worth about $600 billion that did not include direct funding from state and local governments, many Democratic senators immediately torpedoed the proposal, forcing even moderates to weigh the pros and cons of the bipartisan solution they were ultimately willing to advocate or wait for, and to wonder if the risk of losing votes on the progressive side of the caucus was too great.
At the same time, the message coming directly from Biden was clear: a two-party system would have been ideal, but it was not necessary, especially given the bill’s perceived popularity outside Washington.
However, a bipartisan group of representatives took longer to convince. The Bipartisan Problem-Solving Caucus and the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats decoupled vaccine funding from the broader coronavirus package to expedite funding and make at least part of the aid bill bipartisan.
Other moderate Democrats agreed. The argument was that the White House could get the package through in two stages. But during discussions with Biden’s team, including Chief of Staff Ron Klein, the reality of the situation began to emerge. Splitting the bills up could take some time and reduce the pressure on Republicans to support the package in its entirety.
Democratic leaders and the White House have made it clear that the package will stay together, as have Democrats.