December 6, 2023

angst to love politics American style

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
From angst to love; politics American style
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — Forget the gamesmanship on Capitol Hill. America will pay its bills and President Biden will get his legislative package, and what is more, the public is going to love it because there is something for everyone.
          In the meantime, get ready for what’s coming. There will be more “Perils of Pauline” episodes, trials by fire as depicted in the 1914 movie of that name. Or an even better analogy, the next weeks and months will feel like House and Senate Democrats are on the precipice of going over the cliff like Thelma and Louise, the 1991 movie.
          So, strap in, here’s what will happen. First, Democrats scored a win this week when Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backed off his threat to filibuster a vote to raise the debt ceiling. He offered Democrats a reprieve until December, time enough for Democrats to get their act together and pass two bills in tandem. One is for traditional infrastructure, mainly roads and bridges, and it has Republican support. The other is Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan that invests in human infrastructure, mainly education, health care and climate.
          The debt ceiling will have to be revisited again, but if McConnell blinked once, he will blink twice. Wall Street did not react well to McConnell’s brinkmanship, and the GOP leader’s big donors do not like his playing around with the country’s credit rating.
          Historically, both parties have swallowed hard and raised the debt ceiling so bills already incurred can be paid. It is unprecedented for the leader of a major political party to threaten a filibuster to prevent the other party from doing the responsible thing.
          Biden has the high ground on this and however it is resolved procedurally, it will get done, and a month from now, give or take a few days, the two bills that make up Biden’s legislative package will make it through Congress. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., will have gotten whatever concessions they required. For Manchin, maybe it will be added benefits to ease West Virginia’s transition away from coal. For Sinema, who started her career as a climate activist, maybe it will be some signature program to combat climate change. That is how politics works.
          One other thing, the human infrastructure bill will not be $3.5 trillion. The betting is it will come in between $1.9 and $2.1, and that’s a lot of money. Even if it’s smaller than that, we are talking trillions.  Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairs the Senate Budget committee, and he is reminding everyone that whatever the final number, this will be the biggest and most transformational legislation since the New Deal.
          To shave the cost and bring along moderates who are white-knuckled about the price tag, the funding for some programs may have to end sooner than the 10-year life cycle of the legislation. That’s okay because if a program is working and people like it, a future Congress will not sunset it. Republicans tried to kill Obamacare; it didn’t work. Imagine trying to sunset Social Security or Medicare, it could never be done.
          Another phrase may enter the debate, means-testing. Making two years of community college free is seen by progressives as an extension of public school. Moderates question giving free tuition to people who can afford to pay. There is room here for compromise.
          Biden was asked if he would sign legislation that contains the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions. Moderates would like to keep the Amendment, and Biden said he would sign the legislation with or without it, an indication that he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get the investments he believes America needs for the future of its people, and for the health of the planet.
          The American people will have the final word. When they see what is in this package, they will love it. They will forget the petty back and forth. It will be instant gratification. And McConnell and company will have no recourse.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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