“”I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,” Biden said. “Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. If that majority is blocked, then we have no choice but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster.”
Democrats hold the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, which is currently split 50–50 with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) says he’s prepared to bring a pair of election bills to the floor in the coming weeks despite nearly unanimous Republican opposition. The Freedom to Vote Act would limit state-level efforts (led by Republicans) to restrict mail-in voting and absentee balloting, make Election Day a federal holiday, impose new rules for the redistricting process, and require more disclosures from political donors. The second bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would reimplement a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.
On Tuesday, Biden positioned the two bills as a response to Republican efforts (in Georgia and elsewhere) to tighten election laws, and a necessary rejoinder to former President Donald Trump’s craven efforts (in Georgia and elsewhere) to influence the results of the 2020 election.
“That’s not America,” he said. “That’s what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote.”
Those Republican efforts to impose new rules on elections do indeed run the risk of corroding democracy, and Trump’s attempts to overturn the last presidential election were grotesque and condemnable. Even so, it’s not clear that the Democrats’ proposals make sense. If anything, greater federal control over elections might make it more likely that a future president could exercise undue influence over democratic proceedings.
But whether Democrats can pass those bills after suspending the filibuster might be a moot point because it doesn’t seem like there are 50 votes in the Senate for abolishing the filibuster in the first place.”
“Top Senate Democrats have long opposed a Russian natural gas pipeline that’s set to enrich Vladimir Putin. But those lawmakers are putting those concerns aside to back up President Joe Biden as he navigates increasingly precarious talks with Moscow.
Democrats have consistently supported sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that the project will jeopardize Europe’s energy security and allow Putin to blackmail his enemies. But as the Senate prepares to vote next week on legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would force Biden to impose those sanctions, Democrats on Wednesday signaled a significant shift in their posture.
The reason, Democrats say, is that they don’t want to undermine Biden while he engages with Russia over its military buildup on the border with Ukraine. As Putin flirts with an invasion of the U.S. ally, Democrats argued Cruz’s legislation would undercut Biden as he seeks to project unity with European allies — and would remove a key leverage point in the talks.”
“Cruz agreed to lift his holds on 32 nominees in exchange for the Senate voting in early January on his legislation to sanction the pipeline, which the U.S. opposes but decided not to sanction in order to preserve relations with Germany.
Cruz’s blockade, which began shortly after Biden took office, has stymied the Senate’s work on foreign policy nominations, drawing rebukes from Democrats who contend that Cruz was putting U.S. national security at risk.
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable for senators to try and get votes on policy issues that matter to them,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in a brief interview. “What I think is perfectly unreasonable is that there are holds on dozens of ambassadors and senior nominees by several Republican senators. We have to have a path towards confirming qualified nominees.””
“The West Virginia moderate said he can’t back the $1.7 trillion package. But Manchin has supported many of the bill’s individual policies, giving hope for Democratic leaders now plotting to get the centrist senator on board with a far slimmer proposal or spinning off other bills that include some of the package’s well-liked items.”
“Extension of the beefed-up Child Tax Credit that Democrats pushed through in March, which many of them considered a landmark legislative achievement since taking control of the White House and Congress.
The huge expansion of the program, which benefits an estimated 61 million children, will expire at the end of the year unless Democrats find some way to keep it alive or revive it after it lapses. The IRS cut its final round of monthly checks for 2021 last week, sending about $16 billion to more than 36 million families.
The demise of the expansion would mean the end of payments for millions of children whose families would no longer qualify. The maximum credit would fall to $2,000 from $3,600, it would revert to a yearly benefit instead of a monthly payment and a work requirement for parents would be reinstated.”
“Manchin wanted fewer upper-income households to qualify for the benefit and said the work requirement should be brought back. He also considered the one-year extension a budget gimmick because it was likely to be extended again later.
Many Democrats wanted to make the expansion permanent. But bowing to Manchin’s objection to the price of the overall spending package, they settled on a one-year extension in the House bill.”
“Democrats hold power in the House, Senate and White House for the first time in more than a decade, yet the high-profile defense bill got more GOP votes than from Biden’s own party. As progressive lawmakers made their dissatisfaction with the bill’s high price tag clear, centrist Democrats knew they needed Republican support to pass the House and Senate.”
“Bipartisan provisions requiring women to register for the draft, cracking down on Saudi Arabia and imposing sanctions on Russia were nixed; legislation repealing outdated Iraq war authorizations fell by the wayside; reforms to the military justice system and efforts to combat extremism in the ranks were pared back; and a proposal to give Washington, D.C., control of its National Guard was dropped.”
“Democrats have a multi-pronged strategy for addressing drug prices in the Build Back Better Act. First, they would allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers on the prices of a certain number of prescription drugs, something they have been promising to do for years. But Democrats also want to limit drug companies’ ability to hike the prices of their medications for everyone — regardless of what kind of health insurance they have — in the future.
To do that, Congress has proposed requiring drugmakers to pay rebates for any price increases, in either the Medicare health program or the commercial health plans that cover 180 million Americans.
But, as Politico reported this week, the plan to apply the inflation-indexed rebates to the commercial market could be in trouble.
Senate Republicans — at the urging of the drug industry — plan to challenge whether the rebates for commercial health plans are permissible in a bill passed through the budget reconciliation process.”
“the Byrd Rule requires that all the provisions in a budget reconciliation bill directly change federal spending or revenue.
Republicans will argue that the purpose of the provision is to control drug prices for the private plans, full stop, and that does not have anything to do with federal spending or revenue — at least not directly.
The Democratic counterargument would be that applying these rebates to commercial plans would have a serious, more than incidental, effect on the federal budget. The federal government subsidizes almost all private insurance plans in one way or another, and so lower or higher costs for those plans could have major implications and lower costs for private health plans could also mean higher wages for workers, who would then pay more in taxes.
Who wins is likely ultimately a decision for the Senate parliamentarian.”
“what would happen if the parliamentarian determines rebates covering commercial plans cannot be allowed under the Byrd Rule?
The big fear, voiced by advocates of the Democrats’ plan, is that drug companies would extract higher prices from the commercial market in order to make up for the revenue they would lose from Medicare once that program’s new price controls take effect.
According to several experts, that appears unlikely. Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, covered why in a lengthy analysis published in September.
“Fundamentally, for this to occur, it would have to be the case that drug companies are benevolently choosing not to profit-maximize at present,” Adler told me this week, “which I find rather difficult to believe.””
“Under the current plan, drugmakers would pay a rebate based on their sales volume in both the Medicare and commercial markets. In that scenario, there would be little reason to raise list prices faster than inflation, because you are paying the penalty based on the entire market.
But if those rebates can’t include the commercial market, the penalty will be based on the Medicare market only — making it a smaller price to pay if a company does decide to hike the list price of a drug at a rate higher than inflation.”
“There were once plenty of senators who represented states that voted for the other party for president. Between 1960 and 1990, roughly half of all sitting senators fit into this group. But over the last three decades, that number has plummeted”
” Likewise, in an earlier political era, many senators shared their state with a senator from the opposite party. Not only did this serve to reinforce the electoral reality that either party could win a state, but it also gave such senators an obvious bipartisan partner in the Senate, particularly on issues of concern to their home state. Today, though, only 12 senators..have a colleague who’s from the other party.”
“because Senate elections were more about local issues, both parties were able to compete nationally. Voters didn’t care as much whether they sent a Democrat or a Republican to Washington. What mattered was whether they sent somebody who could represent their state well. And senators could prove their worth by bringing home federal funding for roads and bridges — just the kind of issue that used to facilitate bipartisan dealmaking.
But today’s political campaigns and voters care far less about roads and bridges. They care far more about national culture-war issues — and which party controls the majority in Congress. As a result, Democrats can’t win in much of the Southeast and the Mountain West, and Republicans are now perpetual losers in the West and the Northeast. Only the Southwest and the Midwest remain competitive, and that’s only because state populations are currently balanced between liberal cities and conservative exurbs.
It’s also why bipartisanship in the Senate is waning. Republican senators in solidly Republican states do not have to worry about winning over some Democrats; the senators’ general election win is all but assured. Rather, the most likely way they could lose is if they face a primary challenge to their right. And the most likely way they could draw such a challenger is if they were to publicly work with Democrats.”
“even for senators who want to publicly prove their bipartisan bona fides, the problem is that party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefer votes that draw sharp contrasts between the two parties. Divisive partisan politics help with campaign fundraising in an era of increasingly ideological donors (both big and small). And high-stakes elections mobilize and excite voters. Bipartisanship, in contrast, muddles the stakes and blurs the lines.”
“Biden worked harder than Trump to foster a bipartisan deal. But arguably, it was the Democrats’ threat of eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation that pushed McConnell into supporting a bipartisan agreement in a way that bolstered Sinema and Manchin’s faith in bipartisanship. This is hardly a sustainable formula for bipartisan dealmaking on major issues.
To be sure, Congress can still accomplish some lower-profile bipartisan lawmaking (like a recent major upgrade of our drinking-water and wastewater systems) through what Matthew Yglesias and Simon Bazelon have dubbed “Secret Congress.” It turns out that members of Congress can still work across party lines when issues are relatively noncontroversial and there is not much media attention.
Indeed, if you look beyond the partisan media’s name-calling, you can find surprising amounts of bipartisan activity”
“But “Secret Congress” works only because it’s secret, and it’s secret only because the issues are not high-profile enough to draw the public spotlight. But if the only bipartisanship that happens in Congress happens on uncontroversial one-off issues, this leaves the most important issues of the day to wither on the shoals of a 60-vote threshold in the Senate or, more commonly, in the gridlock of a divided government.”
“partisans are the most hostile to compromise — especially those individuals whose racial, religious and cultural identities line up most strongly with one party. But the partisan sorting that has aligned these identities so closely with one party over the last several decades is precisely the reason why voters have come down so hard on politicians who compromise. The more that national political conflict is centered on abstract moral issues and the identity of the nation, the more any compromise feels like a surrender.
To recreate the conditions that allowed bipartisanship to flourish in the Senate once upon a time seems unlikely anytime soon. Instead, the most bipartisan-oriented senators are the most endangered. Manchin is a dying breed. His eventual replacement in West Virginia will almost certainly be a Republican.”
““Ted Cruz is making it very hard on him,” Murphy said bluntly of the Texas Republican senator. “Ted Cruz is holding up every single State Department nominee right now, so the Republican strategy is to try to make it as hard as possible for President Biden to manage crises around the world.”
Cruz, who is widely considered a possible candidate in the next presidential cycle, has held up Biden’s nominees to key national-security positions. He says it’s an effort to encourage the administration to fully implement congressionally mandated sanctions for the controversial Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline known as Nord Stream II.”
“Biden has declined to fully impose those sanctions — which could have crippled the pipeline — as the German government pushes for its completion. The president has said he wants to patch up U.S. alliances with European allies like Germany, which suffered under Trump.”
“Senate Democrats are navigating a tricky balancing act: attempting to simultaneously advance both a $600 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget resolution full of Democratic priorities that’s only expected to garner partisan support.
This plan, which has colloquially been referred to as the “two-track strategy,” is intended to demonstrate that lawmakers can actually work across party lines to get something done on “hard” infrastructure, like roads and airports, and that Democrats can also deliver on “human” infrastructure that’s a party priority but that Republicans won’t support, like funding for long-term caregiving and paid leave.
It is a somewhat circuitous approach to approving infrastructure legislation, driven by the focus that moderate Democrats, and President Joe Biden, have put on bipartisanship — as well as their refusal to alter the filibuster.”