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Dems in Disarray: Is the Biden Agenda Falling Apart on Capitol Hill?

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Posted: Sep 23, 2021 9:25 AM
Dems in Disarray: Is the Biden Agenda Falling Apart on Capitol Hill?

Democrats on Capitol Hill are at war with each other this week, and some major Biden agenda items are now potentially in danger of failing completely (see updates below). Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling, an effort to which Republicans have made clear they will be contributing zero votes. Sen. Mitch McConnell has told his Democratic counterparts that if they want to hike the federal government's debt limit, they'll have to do it on their own. Democrats technically have the votes to do so with their thin majorities, but wrangling said votes has proven to be a major headache. 

Then there's the push to fund the federal government and avoid a partial shutdown, which some Republicans say they're open to supporting. Within those funding fights, Democrats have assailed each other over progressive demands to remove funding to replenish Israel's "Iron Dome" defense shield against terrorist rockets. Some leftists, including certain Squad members with serious anti-Semitism problems, are opposed to this funding – so it's been stripped out of the process, infuriating pro-Israel Democrats: 

A group of far-left lawmakers — including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — forced House Democratic leadership Tuesday to cut $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome from a short-term government funding bill. The removal of the language from a continuing resolution that would keep the federal lights on through early December prompted an urgent call from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)...Moderate House Democrats slammed their progressive colleagues for their anti-Israel stance, arguing that the Iron Dome is not an offensive weapon but rather a defense mechanism meant to shield civilians from rocket attacks by Islamist militant groups. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has worked at the Pentagon and the CIA, tweeted that removing the funding language from the legislation was “devoid of substance and irresponsible.” “Iron Dome is a purely *defensive* system — it protects civilians when hundreds of rockets are shot at population centers,” she wrote. “Whatever your views on the Israeli-Pal[estinian] conflict, using a system that just saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives as a political chit is problematic.” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), a leading centrist, echoed Slotkin’s sentiments

Iron Dome is an extremely effective system whose entire purpose is to protect innocent Israeli civilians from rockets fired indiscriminately at the Jewish state by Hamas and Hezbollah. It is entirely defensive. Yet anti-Israel fanatics in the Democratic House caucus decided to flex, and Pelosi caved. A weakened or depleted Iron Dome could lead to more (fully avoidable) civilian murders, and justified Israeli reprisals. Evidently, the Ilhan Omars and Rashida Tlaibs of the world are unbothered by these outcomes, and see any chance to weaken the US-Israeli alliance as a positive. They decided to use their leverage on this front, and they won this battle. In doing so, they've further exposed another schism within their party, although House Democrats ended up holding hands to beat back a GOP effort to restore this funding line item, opening up even more members to attacks.

Meanwhile, there's the brawl over the size and sequencing of the Democrat-only "reconciliation" spending bill, vis-a-vis the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The latter has already passed the Senate, but progressives say they'll tank it in the lower chamber if it comes before the reconciliation package. More moderate Democrats insist that the bipartisan measure pass first, and want to pare back the scope and scale of the partisan spending proposal, angering their left flank. Politico notes that the possibility of a collapse is now very much in the offing:

Internal Democratic discord has wounded President Joe Biden’s massive social spending plan, raising the prospect that the package could stall out, shrink dramatically — or even fail altogether. Myriad problems have arisen. Moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) continue to be a major headache for party leadership’s $3.5 trillion target. The Senate parliamentarian just nixed the party’s yearslong push to enact broad immigration reform. House members may tank the prescription drugs overhaul the party has run on for years. And a fight continues to brew over Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) push to expand Medicare. “If any member of Congress is not concerned that this could fall apart, they need treatment,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who warned his party “will pay for it at the polls” if it fails in enacting Biden’s agenda. “Our caucus has the feeling of freedom to support or oppose leadership.” Those headwinds threaten to sap the momentum from this summer, when Biden clinched a bipartisan infrastructure deal in the Senate and found support from all corners of his party for a budget setting up his sweeping spending bill. Now, Manchin is calling for a pause, moderates are resisting key components of the legislation and a new fiscal fight over the debt limit is heating up.

Nancy Pelosi is a notoriously ruthless and effective vote whipper and counter, but some veteran observers are wondering if this predicament has gotten too unwieldy, even for her – especially if Cleaver is right in his "free feeling" assessment of the caucus mood:


Progressives are making threats (BIF = bipartisan infrastructure):


But centrists are issuing warnings, too:


Although a handful of Democratic senators have become lightning rods for progressive ire, this has been a recurring reality on issues ranging from the defeated elections power grab, to maintaining the legislative filibuster, to court-packing. Namely, more than a few Hill Democrats are reportedly more than happy to let Manchin and Sinema take the heat, while quietly or "privately" backing their positions:


How many of them like Manchin's "pause" idea, which would kill momentum and could derail the whole enterprise? Things are precarious and fluid. I continue to predict that congressional Democrats will ultimately get the government funded, the debt ceiling raised, the infrastructure bill passed, and some sort of "reconciliation" spending package through, albeit with a smaller price tag than what progressives (and leadership) would prefer. Even if Pelosi needs to scare her team with an embarrassing failed vote or two, which she loathes, I can scarcely imagine her party truly allowing themselves to walk away from their current position empty-handed. But even a few days ago, I'd have called total failure – or even significant partial failure – more or less unfathomable. Now, I'm quite not so sure anymore. I'll leave you with this from yesterday, via progressives' Public Enemy number one:

UPDATE - After a series of "shuttle diplomacy"-style meetings at the White House yesterday, Democratic leaders now say they're shooting to have agreements in place by next Monday. Journalists are noting how the president seems to be something of a bystander, rather than leading the conversation with specifics on what he expects or would accept. It's a high-wire act, and it's the Pelosi show:


UPDATE II - I'm not sure what this means, exactly, but they're saying there's been some progress, albeit vague and incomplete:

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