The Senate comes back from Memorial Day recess on Monday (though nothing happens until Tuesday—nothing ever happens in the Senate on a Monday) to an ambitious agenda set by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, all complicated by the preening arrogance of a certain West Virginia hot air balloon. Schumer has teed up a number of critical votes for the month, all against the backdrop of seemingly fruitless yet interminable negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans on infrastructure.
"The June work period will be extremely challenging," Schumer warned Democratic colleagues in a letter last week. "I want to be clear that the next few weeks will be hard and will test our resolve as a Congress and a conference." Meaning, yeah we would like to do something about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—both standing in the way by opposing filibuster reform and using budget reconciliation to pass what they can—but here we are. That tensions are high among Democrats is clear. Here's Montana moderate Democrat Jon Tester not so obliquely blasting his posturing colleagues: "My style is: I want to get shit done, OK? And I think, you know, being on TV and then having a gang of reporters around you is just fine, but it doesn't help me get things done." Abetting Mitch McConnell's obstruction doesn't count as getting shit done. One hopes that Tester is having that discussion directly with Manchin and Sinema—he might be able to accomplish something.
First on the agenda for Schumer is the big bipartisan industrial policy bill intended to counter China. That's the bill that the Senate was poised to pass last month, but which Republicans derailed—even with the billing including many of their provisions—in an effort to also derail the Jan. 6 commission vote. That one happened, but the majority 54-35 vote failed in a filibuster. That bit of posturing over, Republicans are likely to support this industrial policy bill in large numbers in a vote as early as Tuesday. After that, things get dicey.
Paycheck fairness could be next on Schumer's agenda. It passed last Congress in the House only to land in McConnell's trash can. Schumer included this bill on his list for the month. It would increase penalties on employers in wage discrimination cases. Republicans are opposed. Schumer also said the Equality Act is on tap. It would amend the Civil Rights Act barring discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Republicans are opposed. Schumer also said he would bring up S. 1, the For the People Act to expand voting rights and election fairness. Manchin is opposed.
The House is going to start work on President Biden's infrastructure proposal Wednesday of this week, possibly to put pressure on the Senate. Maybe to put pressure on Biden, who is scheduled to talk to Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito again on Monday. That's after a fruitless discussion on Friday, when Biden rejected yet another inadequate offer from Capito. The Republicans have come up to $928 billion in infrastructure spending over the next 8 years, but only a quarter of that is new spending raised from user fees. The rest is just counting baseline funding that is scheduled to happen anyway, as well as the controversial part of it which is stealing so-far unspent coronavirus relief funds.
"The President expressed his gratitude for [Capito's] effort and goodwill, but also indicated that the current offer did not meet his objectives to grow the economy, tackle the climate crisis, and create new jobs," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after Friday's discussion. Biden also told Capito that he would "continue to engage a number of Senators in both parties in the hopes of achieving a more substantial package," another indication that he is at least thinking about cutting off these talks.
More indication that Biden is finally getting frustrated with this came Sunday, when Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm went on CNN's State of the Union to say "This has got to be done soon." She added that it is "perplexing why the Republicans haven't moved further on critical pieces." It's not actually perplexing. It's the Republican playbook which we've all seen over and over again. The entirety of the Obama presidency was Mitch McConnell and Republicans playing out the clock to prevent anything from happening.
This is after some significant concessions from the White House. He's dropped from a $2.3 trillion absolutely necessary infrastructure plan to $1 trillion in new spending. The tax hike to 28% that he was going to impose on corporations has been axed, with a new minimum tax of 15%.
Outside of the Senate, and seemingly the White House, the urgency and the perceived threat to democracy from the Senate itself is growing. "We need to move the ball," said Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy organization, told AP. "We told everyone to come out against all odds in the pandemic and vote," she said about the 2020 election. The promise was that when Democrats won, "we're going to have all these great things happen, their lives are going to be better. And what they're finding is that it looks like Washington as usual."
House Democrats are there, too, with Manchin increasingly become the focus of frustration and anger.
It’s time for Senate Democrats, and President Biden to start turning up the heat on Manchin, and Sinema for that matter. If it forces them to do the worst, cross the aisle and start caucusing with Republicans, well at least everyone would be being honest about what’s happening already.