Joe Biden’s first significant legislative process is heading to a long debate in the Senate, where the bill is expected to be approved by the chamber, which is at 50-50 tie between Democrats and Republicans and where VP Kamala Harris would be the tiebreaker vote.
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives approved their version of the $1.9 trillion COVID bill with a 219-212 margin and sent it to the Senate for deliberation and approval. Democrats, specially progressives, had expected the bill to include controversial topics like the increase in the minimum wage to $15 no substantial financial aid to most Americans. However, the political reality of Congress left those dreams dead in the water.
First, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage increase could not be included in the bill, then President Biden limited the eligibility of those who could get the $1,400 stimulus checks, with individuals with incomes over $80,000 not receiving the checks, to the disappointment of progressives who expected that a Democratic-controlled Washington would be able to pass far reacing policies in a speedy manner.
Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez even slammed Biden’s proposal that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15, calling it a “deep compromise”, and saying the debate over the viability of the $15 minimum wage increase was “utterly embarrassing”. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a big defender of the minimum wage hike, also criticized the administration for seemingly “not having a strategy to raise the minimum wage at all”, as reported by CNN.
Now the debate goes to the Senate, where the GOP is expected to put up a fight to delay the bill from passage. Kamala Harris has already used her tie-breaking power in the senate by to being the debate over the bill, we can expect Harris to use this . However, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) already has forced the chamber to read the entire bill out loud before any debate can happen, meaning that substantive arguments over the content and possible amendments of the bill will not happen for at least 15 more hours.
By watering down some parts of the COVID bill, Biden has done everything in his power to ensure the support of some moderate Democrats who could derail his projects in the upper chamber of Congress, specifically Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinnema (D-AZ). Biden urgently needs a legislative win, specially after the Cabinet nomination fiasco of Neera Tanden, before he moves forward to more contentious issues like Electoral reform, immigration or infrastructure.
Furthermore, Democrats know that passing a COVID relief bill will most likely be very popular to the American Public, not too hard to understand as the bill is promising a lot of money. A poll conducted by Monmouth University showed that 62% of the public support the overall relief plan offered by Biden and the Democrats.
Even if there was some initial willingness by GOP politicians to reach a compromise in the COVID bill, the Biden administration pursued a heavily partisan approach and is expected that almost all Republicans would vote against the bill when it comes to the floor of the Senate. However, there might be some political benefits for the Democrats for getting the bill through congress without a single GOP vote, as they will be able to use the popularity of the bill as a political weapon against republicans in the incoming 2022 midterm elections.
Unless anything out of the ordinary happens, Biden has managed to ensure the passage of the bill by not pushing a further debate on the $15 bill and limiting the eligibility of those who can get the $1,400 stimulus checks, albeit without a single Republican vote, purposely throwing away an opportunity for bipartisan agreement.
Progressives might be angered at moderates like Manchin for pushing against the most radical proposals originally intended for the bill. However, this is just reality sinking in, Democrats acted as if they had won a 2008-size landslide with comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress, the reality is that they have extremely tight margins and they have the need to protect the political lives of their most moderate lawmakers.
Nevertheless, this “watered-down” bill is still a massive amount of public spending on behalf of the federal government, just imagine the COVID relief bill had the Democrats won a larger and more comfortable majority in the Senate.