Despite severe Democratic divisions, Joe Biden passed his first major legislation through the Senate, pushing almost two trillion in coronavirus aid with just party-line support to the House. But what will his next bill look like?
Since the beginning of Biden’s term, his administration has touted its goal of bipartisanship that it campaigned on; however, Biden’s first legislation seems to violate that very ideal. Passing 50–49 on strict party lines and giving up a number of provisions to garner the support of more moderate senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the bill fell short of all of the Biden administration’s promises.
The Democratic Party is Divided Too
While we comment on the division in the Republican parties, with the increasingly strong Trump movement battling the anti-Trump one, it’s important to point out that similar divisions are occurring in the Democratic party.
Joe Manchin’s last minute tactics to side with both parties on a number of issues, including restricting jobless protections, drove a number of more left-leaning groups into a firestorm and foreshadow an incredibly scary prospect for the Biden administration: how to pass legislation to appease the moderate and progressive wings of the party. When the Senate parliamentarian objected to including the $15 minimum wage as part of the budget reconciliation loophole Democrats took to pass this legislation without significant Republican support and moderate Senators ended provisions for widespread stimulus access, progressives might’ve hoped that the Biden administration would lobby for some support; to the contrary, that simply did not occur.
Furthermore, it doesn’t look like tight margins on legislation will be going away anytime soon. Because Democrats hold the slimmest party majority in the Senate and a very small majority in the House, any number of defections could topple any negotiations Biden’s administration hopes to make. On upcoming legislation including infrastructure, healthcare, and climate activism, all issues Manchin has broken with party lines on, it’s not likely that he’ll change his views.
And while progressives did support this bill without many of their ambitions in it, they may not be so forgiving when the next Biden legislation comes around, possibly leading to more partisan gridlock and inaction. Already, a political action committee founded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is planning to run radio ads in Arizona targeting Kyrsten Sinema, who voted against the provision to raise the minimum wage to $15. Divisions can only fester and spread at this point.
What This Means for the Biden Administration
If Democrats do end up getting the coronavirus aid through the House, as is expected, they would be accomplishing a monumental feat. Jimmy Carter, even with over sixty Democratic votes, struggled to get his legislation passed; while that may have been partly due to the economic stagflation of many of the policies at the time, it still presents how difficult it is for even trifecta parties to push legislation through.
Moreover, looking at the history of midterms in the United States, it looks as though the period for action is closing. Historically, opposition parties make huge gains in the elections after their initial losses, as Democrats did in 2018, and a possible red wave could point to changes in congressional leadership, making it even harder for Democrats to pass legislation for the second half of Biden’s term.
But the passing of this bill would present an alternative: it seems that Democrats, at least with economic liberalism, can find more unity with the economy than with other issues like climate change and healthcare.
In actuality though, reality paints a much less rosy picture. Some safe allies of the Biden administration, including Chris Coons (D-DE), voted against the $15 minimum wage; it looks as though the more establishment-based, moderate faction of the party is still willing to fight with the upcoming progressive faction. Biden’s establishment stature may come back to bite him even while he pulled historic progressive support during this last campaign.
I think that something to watch over the next decade in politics is to see how factions, already cemented between the two parties during the last decade, are going to further develop within the two parties. As the Trump and anti-Trump factions take hold of the Republican party, the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party are going to joust for control as long as their party is in power, jeopardizing serious legislative hopes for any upcoming legislative leaders and administrations. It further adds to growing worries that even though we suffer from extreme inter-partisan gridlock right now, intra-partisan gridlock will only continue to grow.