President Joe Biden has been in office a week more than eight months, and he has had high public opinion ratings until the last month, with so many issues clashing, including the withdrawal from Afghanistan; the continuing COVID-19 Pandemic debate; and the problems at the Mexico border.
So right now, Biden is backed by only 43 percent in some polls, and the pressure is on to move ahead this week on the domestic policy agenda.
This will be seen as the ultimate week of reckoning for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party future, as debate begins on the Physical Infrastructure bill which passed the Senate with a bipartisan support of 69-30 on August 10, and the House of Representatives will vote on it this week.
The proposed “Social Infrastructure” bill, which would be the most expanded reform program since the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson and the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt is more complicated. Progressive Democrats and moderate Democrats are fighting over the price tag of $3.5 trillion over ten years, and the issue also of gaining the support of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are resisting modifying the filibuster to accomplish the legislation.
The price tag might have to be lowered substantially, and the issue of the order of voting for the two pieces of legislation is also holding up progress, as moderates want the bipartisan bill passed now, and the more progressive “Social Infrastructure” bill to be passed later, while progressives in the party want passage of both at the same time.
Very few people are aware of the job of the US Senate Parliamentarian, or the holder of that position, Elizabeth MacDonough.
She has held that job since 2012, appointed by then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The first woman to hold that position, she is the sixth person to be in that job, since it was created in 1935.
She is designed to be a nonpartisan official who determines what and what cannot be done under the “reconciliation” process in the Senate, which can allow certain budgetary situations to move forward without meeting the filibuster requirement of sixty senators.
Without that, very little could be done in a Senate which for only the fourth time in history has seen an evenly divided Senate.
The 47th Congress (1881-1883); 83rd Congress (1953-1955); and the 107th Congress (2002-2003) are the only times before the 117th Congress, where we have seen such a situation.
So this woman, Elizabeth MacDonough, highly respected, has tremendous power over the Joe Biden agenda, and now has made clear that immigration reform cannot be utilized under “reconciliation”, a blow to action on that issue, which seems unlikely to be able to be overcome!
With the reality in 2021 of a 50-50 US Senate, the ability of the Democratic majority to get the Joe Biden agenda adopted becomes a constant headache, and the inability to adjust the filibuster to allow votes on some issues without a 60 member majority support is infuriating.
And behind the scenes, there are concerns over the distinct possibility that were a Democratic Senator to die or become incapacitated and be unable to vote, such event would literally switch control of the Senate back to the Republicans, and Mitch McConnell.
The Senate has 5 members over 80, and 25 members in their 70s, an all time high such number, and the average age of all Senators is 63, also the highest in the history of the Senate.
18 of these 30 members over 70 and into their 80s are Democrats, so in many respects, the clock is ticking, and it is essential for quick action on a multitude of issues before a possible tragedy occurs.
Also, history tells us that the party NOT in the White House tends to gain seats in the midterm elections that follow, and that portends a disaster for the Democrats, with an evenly divided Senate and only a 6 vote margin in the House of Representatives.
Of course, the tumult around Donald Trump and the “Big Lie” might help the Democrats to gain seats, and history is not a guarantee for the party out of power in both houses of Congress.
But this is certainly a time of concern, including the possible future retirement, although clearly not imminent, of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer!
“Reconciliation”, a tactic permitted by the Senate parliamentarian, to allow some bills to pass if 51 votes are gained, has led to the passage of the COVID 19 relief legislation in March, and it may be that it will be utilized to gain the passage of the Infrastructure bill, which has been unable to gain Republican support over the past two months of negotiation.
This Congress is the 4th time we have had an evenly divided US Senate, after the 47th Congress (1881-1883); the 83rd Congress (1953-1955); and the 107th Congress (2001-2003).
The tactic can be used only sparingly, but whether it can be employed for a multitude of other Joe Biden initiatives, including on voting rights, criminal justice reform, and health care and education advancements is doubtful.
There is the possibility, sadly, that Joe Biden may be stopped in making massive changes, similar to what Barack Obama faced in 2011-2017, and that is so infuriating!
And the danger that the party in the White House almost always loses seats and or control in the midterm elections, presents a real challenge to Democrats in 2022, when with two thirds of the Senate seats up for election in that year being Republican held seats, and at least five incumbent Republicans not running for reelection.
Joe Biden and the Democratic Party hold power in Congress by a “hair”, with an evenly split Senate, and only a few votes margin in the House of Representatives!
So if one Democratic Senator was to be incapacitated or pass away, the Senate would become Republican controlled for the rest of the 117th Congress!
With the Senate being generally older age than ever before, the danger of such a tragedy is multiplied.
So it is essential for Joe Biden to stop trying to deal with the Republicans, who are recalcitrant, and move ahead on his ambitious agenda.
And with Republicans being very unwilling to cooperate or compromise, hopefully Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona might be willing to agree to change the filibuster rule so that action on the Biden agenda can move forward!