Last week, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, returned to the fray, telling Biden that if the infrastructure bill was not passed on time, she would vote no on the crucial reconciliation plan, as the Politico Playbook reported this morning. Over the weekend, Axios reported that Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., was again arguing for a “strategic break” in spending, this time until 2022.
Their maneuvers risk – or are intended to provoke – complete sabotage of Democrats’ unique chance to tackle pressing climate, health care and immigration issues. The media, meanwhile, are struggling to recount the Byzantine parliamentary steps necessary to pass the legislation through the Senate with a simple majority, making the whole fight difficult for a weary public to follow.
As Democrats move forward with their $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation package, confusion has led to multiple rounds of coverage suggesting that this or that Democratic priority has been removed, or this or that provision has been approved. But in reality, the bill is still being drafted and its ultimate authors continue to choose among the various texts to be passed to committee, abandoning certain elements and adding others that have never been submitted to the process. Its destination is the House Budget Committee and, most importantly, the House floor.
Democratic Representatives Kathleen Rice of New York, Scott Peters of California and Kurt Schrader of Oregon were the subject of significant (and well-deserved) anger last week for blocking an Energy Committee measure and trade that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with drug companies. There are few political priorities that Democratic candidates spent as much time promising voters as they would if given the chance.
But the theatrical votes of the trio against the provision do not condemn it in any way. The party leadership can reinsert it through a so-called director’s amendment to the budget committee, which means that the opinions of these three members on drug prices are only worth considering. if they are strong enough to make them vote against the whole package. And if an MP is entirely opposed to the bill – as Schrader suggested he is – then what he thinks of an individual provision doesn’t make sense. Only their vote in the House counts.
On the court, Democrats can afford to lose just three votes, and Florida’s Schrader and Stephanie Murphy are expected to be no. Maine Rep. Jared Golden is still a tough vote for Democrats to get. But an unreliable former, Representative Dan Lipinski of Illinois, was retired in 2020, thanks to a progressive lead challenge from current seat holder Marie Newman; she should vote yes.
Peters and Rice, for their part, are expected to vote to approve the final package in the House, after taking a stand on Big Pharma‘s behalf in committee. So why did they pretend to vote against? The industry inundated Peters with nearly $ 90,000 this year and ran regular ads thanking him for his support in his district. Rice’s reasoning is a little more obscure. Big Pharma gave him just over $ 6,000 in the same amount of time, but industry stakeholders are among New York Democrats’ biggest donors. An executive of Novo Nordisk’s largest shareholder, Renaissance Technologies hedge fund, and his relatives have collectively donated the Rice Victory Fund, a political action committee affiliated with the MP, more than $ 100,000 over the past three election cycles. And, a former Nassau County District Attorney, Rice ran for New York City Attorney General in 2010 and weighed heavily on a second bid in 2018 before stepping down. She is seen as a likely candidate the next time the position opens, and given Attorney General Letitia James’ higher ambitions, it might not be long.
The budget committee, whose members will be the ultimate drafters of the reconciliation bill that will be presented to the House, is generally more progressive than more powerful committees like Ways and Means or Energy and Trade. This is because of the structural corruption upon which Washington’s political economy is based. It boils down to fundraising: These latter committees have jurisdiction over the main centers of power in the economy, so these industries inundate the members of these committees with campaign donations. Like a host shaping up to synergize with a parasite, the most corporate-hungry members of Congress tend to fight for committee places, and leadership tends to reward them. Concentration of more business-friendly members on powerful committees means less powerful committees – Budget; Education and work; Judicial – end up being stacked with progressives.
In general, the imbalance of power works well for corporate lobbyists. But a reconciliation process empowers the budget committee, making it a less effective defense against historic legislation.
Peters sits on the Budget Committee, where he can again lodge his objection. But that objection will likely be harmless, as the rest of the committee – which is chaired by Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and includes progressives such as Barbara Lee of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois – are broadly in favor of drug pricing effort. One member with a centrist voting record, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, faces a serious main challenge from his district’s left-back. The threat should help him stay on board.
The growing importance of the generally obscure panel was underscored this weekend when Yarmuth was invited to appear on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace”. Yarmuth suggested the word vote for the final package would pass the September 27 deadline and begin in early October, but expressed little doubt that the prescription drug provision would return.
“I’m not sure there are a lot of Democratic caucus members on either side of the building who oppose the prescription drug price negotiation, I just think that’s the methodology used,” he said. Yarmuth said, adding that his committee would withdraw other proposals launched in other House committees and in the Senate.
The Senate, however, brings another complication to the process. Many House Democrats are loath to vote on a major tax and spending bill that then dies in the Senate, creating pressure for what is called “pre-conference”: in fact an agreement between the two rooms which is entered into before the conference committee where they meet. For this reason, holdouts like Sinema and Manchin may actually have more influence on the budget committee and a potential director’s amendment than any member of the House we heard from last week.
There are only days left before the self-imposed infrastructure deadline and a possible government shutdown, and weeks before the default if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling. Because the bicameral, multi-committee process is one of the only ways the party can implement its platform without struggling with filibuster, everything is thrown in, including immigration and labor reform. This structure is now reaching a breaking point. Over the weekend, the Senate parliamentarian, a staff member who plays an advisory role whom Democrats treat like a magistrate, warned their version of immigration reform went against the rules of reconciliation. . Democrats can go forward against his advice if they wish, but would again need the support of Manchin and Sinema to do so. Something must give way.