Senate Democrats set the stage for action on multiple fronts

At this point, two weeks ago, the Democrats’ Build Back Better agenda was effectively dead. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced on Fox News that he would not support the legislation; the White House was apoplectic; and intra-party recriminations were well advanced.

But the door was not completely firm. President Joe Biden has taken gradual steps to continue negotiations, and Politico reported on December 22: “[F]or the first time since Manchin blew it up, we hear hints of optimism from Democratic senators. “

It was in this context that Axios reported overnight:

Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) is open to re-engagement on climate and child care provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better program if White House removes the enhanced child tax credit of the $ 1.75 trillion package – or dramatically lowers income limits for qualifying families, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

It’s still hard to imagine what a final deal might look like, but the fact that talks are underway reinforces the impression that the BBB package has a pulse. The Axios report added that the West Virginia conservative kept “in touch with senior White House officials during the holidays.”

For Democrats and those who could benefit from the Build Back Better agenda, tough negotiations are better than no negotiations.

As for the rest of Democratic plans for the near future, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to his members this morning, leaving little doubt that the New York Democrat is not reducing his ambitions. in terms of voting rights.

Schumer’s rhetorical development has been subtle and gradual in recent months, but today’s message to the Democratic Senate Conference lacked subtlety. From the letter:

“The Senate was designed to protect the political rights of the minority in the chamber, by the promise of debate and the ability to amend. But over the years, these rights have been twisted and twisted to hinder and embarrass the will of the majority – something our founders explicitly opposed. The constitution specified which measures required a qualified majority, including the removal or ratification of treaties. intended to bypass the obstruction have been diverted to secure the obstruction. We have to ask ourselves: if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass state-level voter suppression laws with only a simple majority vote, but does not allow the United States the Senate to do the same? “

It doesn’t have to be a rhetorical question.

Schumer went on to say that the Senate has evolved on several occasions and quoted the late Senator Robert Byrd as saying that the rules of the institution “must be changed to reflect changing circumstances.” Today’s letter went on to quote Byrd as saying, “Congress doesn’t have to be tied by the dead hand of the past.

The reference was certainly not accidental: Byrd was a political giant in West Virginia, and Manchin has said on several occasions that he admires the late senator – whose seat he now occupies – and tries to honor the legacy of Byrd.

Schumer concluded his letter by telling Democratic senators that if the Republican minority refuses to allow action on voting rights, the Senate “will debate and consider changes to the Senate rules no later than January 17, Martin Luther’s Day. King Jr., to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections. “

Before the members left Capitol Hill for their vacation, there was evidence of significant momentum. I confirmed this morning to Senate sources that meetings on potential rule changes had taken place during the recess, and those discussions are expected to continue this week.

This is not to say that defenders of the franchise should have hope. It would be reckless. Arizona’s Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema has previously suggested that she will continue to obstruct procedural progress on this issue, and while Manchin was involved in the negotiations, there is no guarantee that he will prioritize our democracy through report to Senate obstruction rules.

That said, the two biggest legislative priorities for the Democratic majority in 2022 are Build Back Better and the Free Voting Act. Both efforts face difficult hurdles and may still fail, but party leaders are clearly not yet ready to drop either bill.

Afterword: For those of you who watch Capitol Hill closely, I’ll just add that the Senate was due to vote today on one of the President’s circuit court candidates. Due to snow in the nation’s capital, this vote has been postponed until tomorrow. Tomorrow will also be the first in-person meeting of the Democratic Senate Conference since Manchin’s appearance on Fox News on December 19.

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