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A funny thing happened this week. President Biden and the Democratic Party realized they have actual power. Wait, there’s more: They don’t appear to be afraid of using it. Wait, it gets even better: They don’t seem to care if Republicans say mean things about them — they’re gonna do their thing and look out below. After decades of watching Democrats cower before the slashing rhetoric of Republicans, it is an amazing thing to see.
In this instance, “their thing” is to seek the passage via reconciliation of another deeply needed COVID relief bill. Republicans coughed up a proposal that was about a third of the size of the current $1.9 trillion package. Mr. Biden thanked them politely, agreed to consider measures to keep relief money from going to people who really don’t need it, and then showed them the door.
“Reconciliation” is a process by which the 60-vote threshold — made necessary by the inevitable GOP misuse of the filibuster — is set aside. The House has already voted to do this on a straight party-line vote, and the Senate will take the measure up shortly. If reconciliation passes, which it should, Biden and his congressional Democratic allies will need 51 votes to pass the relief package.
“With the budget resolutions in place,” reports The Washington Post, “Democrats would be able to get to work in earnest on writing Biden’s proposed relief bill into law — and ultimately pass it without any Republican votes if necessary, though they continued to insist that is not their preference.”
Passing a hugely expensive bill this way is a significantly muscular move; it signals that all the talk about “unity” and bipartisanship can take a number, we’re getting this damn thing done.
“Inside the White House, there is a belief that so much of Biden’s agenda is tied to the success of the Covid relief package — the most vital of which is containing the spread of coronavirus — that inaction would cripple the presidency and delay would endanger it,” reports Politico. “They also view the bill as critical to resolving some of the thornier issues they’ve confronted in their short time in office, including school reopenings, which would be accelerated with a massive resource infusion if the relief bill were to pass. And so, on Wednesday, Biden got more directly involved in the process than he had been at any time prior.”
Lurking beneath all the inside-baseball political talk is the simple fact that the people have been screaming for help for a long, long time. The prone inaction of the former administration combined with the rigid NO SOUP FOR YOU Republican ideology in the Senate has made this a bleak, hungry and terrifying season for millions, because dealing with a lurking virus isn’t unsettling enough: Being a real American, according to the GOP, must also mean worrying about food and getting thrown out of your apartment.
Mr. Biden’s stimulus package is wildly popular, so of course most Republicans are dead set against it. As punishment for seeking passage of the bill via reconciliation, the GOP is teeing up what is known as “vote-a-rama.” Because they cannot thwart the bill with the filibuster, they will launch a blizzard of amendments to it that will slow down — but not stop — the process. As of this writing, some 400 amendments have been readied. It is going to be a long night.
I said “most Republicans,” and there’s the rub. One thing the Biden administration must be permanently aware of is Joe Manchin, the center-right Democratic senator from West Virginia. Manchin has already made a menace of himself regarding the elimination of the filibuster, and seemed to be positioning himself to be a log in the road of the relief package.
At which point a deeply unexpected twist came along in the plot. West Virginia’s very awful Republican Governor Jim Justice said on Monday, “We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move.” Loosely translated, this means, “Get out of the way, Joe Manchin, and let this bill pass.” Sen. Manchin got the message, and has since signaled his support for the relief package. Beat that with a stick.
The Republican Party remains an active menace. It took 15 days after Biden’s inauguration for Chuck Schumer to wrestle committee control from the clammy grasp of Mitch McConnell. The GOP is in open civil war between a faction represented by the daughter of a notorious war criminal and a faction that is happy to promulgate the belief that pedophile cannibal lizard people are running the Democratic Party. Looming over it all is Donald Trump, who is gone but remains present like a Taco Bell fart in a crowded elevator.
Yet here are Mr. Biden and his congressional allies with actual power in their hands, and more to the point, the actual will to use it. No worries about “You said unity!” fretting on Fox News, no “yeah but” or “what about”… just the will to get it done. In this, right now, they seem very much like, well, Republicans, who have no problem whatsoever getting what they came for.
I am cautiously daring to hope that Democrats are starting to realize that power exists only if you use it. The GOP uses power to start wars, cut taxes, pollute the land and loot the Treasury. The Democrats are preparing to use their power to help pull the country out of the tailspin of COVID. At long last, they appear to have remembered how to flex.