Friday, December 3

The 50-50 split in the Senate allows Manchin and Sinema to enjoy enormous influence | Democrats

Joe Biden recently summed up his trouble getting things done.

In a United States where the United States Senate is split 50-50, then indeed any senator can have a veto over the entire president’s agenda. “Look,” Biden laughed. a CNN town hall, “You have 50 Democrats, each one is a president. Each. So you have to figure things out. “

He explains why the most powerful man in the world is currently fighting to get his way in Washington, and why two members of his own party, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, stand in his way.

Such is the distribution of power that American presidents can only impose their will to a certain extent if Congress refuses to budge. While the White House can do a lot with executive orders and actions, important legislation must win a majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Democrats currently control both houses, but only narrowly. The Senate is evenly split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, which means Vice President Kamala Harris must cast the tiebreaker vote. That means all 50 Democratic senators must be on board in the face of united Republican opposition, an increasingly safe (and grim) assumption in a polarized age.

By contrast, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats reached 59 seats in the then 96-member Senate, while President Lyndon Johnson’s Democrats had 68 in what was by then a 100-seat chamber. Biden is trying to match both men’s scale of ambition with no room for error.

This is why their agenda, huge investments in infrastructure and expansion of the social safety net, hinges on Manchin and Sinema’s blessing on what might appear to the observing world as a case where the dog wags its tail. .

Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont defeated by Biden in last year’s Democratic primary, tweeted earlier this month: “You cannot allow 2 senators to defeat what 48 senators and 210 deputies want.”

But the cold reality is that, after months of painful disputes and concessions, Manchin and Sinema have almost single-handedly reduced the scale and scope of Biden’s grand vision.

It emerged this week that the Build Back Better plan would be cut in half from $ 3.5 billion to $ 1.75 billion, eliminating plans for paid family leave, lower prices for prescription drugs, and free community college. Sanders’ dream of including dental and vision care also didn’t make the cut.

Joe Biden visits the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with Congressional Democrats on their broad national agenda last month.
Joe Biden visits the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with Congressional Democrats on their broad national agenda last month. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Biden insists that the framework still represents the largest investment ever made in climate change and the biggest improvement to the nation’s healthcare system in more than a decade.

He said at the White House on Friday: “Nobody got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s compromise. That is consensus. And that’s what I followed. For a long time I have said that commitment and consensus are the only way to do great things in a democracy, important things for the country ”.

But what makes it especially irritating to many is that opinion polls show that the removed measures are very popular. Manchin and Sinema have ensured that the United States is destined to remain one of seven countries, along with the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Tonga, with no paid leave for new mothers, according to UCLA. Center for Global Policy Analysis.

Biden met with both senators at the White House Tuesday night. Countless newspaper columns and hours of airtime have been spent trying to understand the motives of the two holdouts, who can effectively decide whether Democrats keep their campaign promises, with huge implications for next year’s midterm elections. .

Manchin is not that mysterious. He hails from coal-rich West Virginia, a conservative state that Donald Trump won twice overwhelmingly, and once posted a campaign ad in which he fired a rifle at a bill. He owns about $ 1 million in stock in his son’s coal brokerage company and has raised campaign funds from oil and gas interests.

Critics accuse him of putting personal and local concerns before his party, the nation and the world. USA Today newspaper wrote in an editorial: “It is no exaggeration to conclude that Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is risking the future of the planet to protect a shrinking pool of 14,000 coal mining jobs in his home state of West Virginia.”

Kyrsten Sinema and Senator Mitt Romney channel Ted Lasso.  Not everyone saw the funny side.
Kyrsten Sinema and Senator Mitt Romney channel Ted Lasso. Not everyone saw the funny side. Photograph: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

However, Sinema has been described as enigmatic, sphinx-like, and whimsical. In 2018, she became Arizona’s first Democratic senator for more than two decades, and despite her progressive credentials and knack for fashion statements, she has taken conservative positions on various issues.

She also provokes the left with stunts like thumb down gesture in the Senate when it voted against raising the federal minimum wage and, on Thursday, a parody of the tv comedy Ted Lasso with Republican Senator Mitt Romney. Perhaps revealingly, Sinema raised $ 1.1 million in campaign funds in the last quarter with significant donations from the pharmaceutical and financial industries.

In a divided Senate, where Republicans are consumed by Trump’s electoral lies, this duo have the fate of the Biden presidency in their hands. The haggling could go on for weeks to come, giving Manchin and Sinema continued enormous influence and ensuring that their every move and word will be avidly scrutinized.

Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary, tweeted“My dream? Democrats get a few more Senate seats in 2022 and when Joe Manchin holds a press conference to declare what he can and can’t live with, no one shows up.”

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