Biden, Congress Face Legislation Grind 06/21 06:07
Until recently, the act of governing seemed to happen at the speed of
presidential tweets. But now President Joe Biden is settling in for what
appears will be a long, summer slog of legislating.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Until recently, the act of governing seemed to happen at
the speed of presidential tweets. But now President Joe Biden is settling in
for what appears will be a long, summer slog of legislating.
Congress is hunkered down, the House and Senate grinding through a
monthslong stretch, lawmakers trying to draft Biden's big infrastructure ideas
into bills that could actually be signed into law. Perhaps not since the
drafting of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago has Washington tried
a legislative lift as heavy.
It's going to take a while.
"Passing legislation is not a made-for-TV movie," said Phil Schiliro, a
former legislative affairs director at the Obama White House and veteran of
congressional battles, including over the health care law.
Biden appears comfortable in this space, embarked on an agenda in Congress
that's rooted in his top legislative priority -- the $4 trillion "build back
better" investments now being shaped as his American Jobs and American Families
To land the bills on his desk, the president is relying on an old-school
legislative process that can feel out of step with today's fast-moving
political cycles and hopes for quick payoffs. Democrats are anxious it is
taking too long and he is wasting precious time negotiating with Republicans,
but Biden seems to like the laborious art of legislating.
On Monday, Biden is expected to launch another week of engagement with
members of both parties, and the White House is likely at some point to hear
from a bipartisan group of senators working on a scaled-back $1 trillion plan
as an alternative.
At the same time, the administration is pushing ahead with the president's
own, more sweeping proposals being developed in the House and Senate budget
committees, tallying as much as $6 trillion, under a process that could enable
Democrats to pass it on their own. Initial votes are being eyed for late July.
"This is how negotiations work," White House deputy press secretary Andrew
Bates said during last week's twists and turns of the infrastructure
"We continue to work closely with Democrats of all views -- as well as
Republicans -- on the path forward. There are many possible avenues to getting
this done, and we are optimistic about our chances," Bates said.
During his administration, President Donald Trump had the full sweep of
Republican control of the House and Senate for the first two years of his
tenure, but the limits of legislating quickly became clear.
Trump tended to govern by tweet, rather than the more traditional
legislative process, bursting out with policy ideas and official administrative
positions often at odds with his party in Congress.
The Trump-era results were mixed, and Republicans were unable to clinch
their top legislative priority, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care
Act. But they went on to secure a sizable achievement when Trump signed the GOP
tax cuts into law at the end of 2017.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is a leader of today's bipartisan
negotiations, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump, too, proposed
an infrastructure package. If Biden sticks with the bipartisan talks he could
not only fulfill a campaign promise but "keep his pledge of doing things across
the aisle and getting something done," Portman said.
"Everybody wants to do infrastructure," he said.
Even as Biden reaches for a bipartisan deal, skeptical Democrats are wary of
a repeat of 2009, when Barack Obama was president and they spent months
negotiating the details of the Affordable Care Act with Republicans. Eventually
Democrats passed the package that became known as "Obamacare" on their own.
Lawmakers also have been energized by the speed at which Congress was able
to approve COVID-19 relief -- the massive CARES Act at the start of the
pandemic in 2020 and more recently Biden's American Rescue Plan in February.
They are eager for swift action on these next proposals.
Biden's strategy this time is a two-part approach. He is trying to secure a
bipartisan deal on roads, bridges and broadband -- the more traditional types
of infrastructure -- while also pursuing the broader Democratic priorities
The budget committees are preparing some $6 trillion in spending on what the
White House calls the human infrastructure of Americans' lives with child care
centers, community colleges and elder care in Biden's plans, adding in
Democrats' other long-running ideas. Among them, expanding Medicare for seniors
with vision, hearing and dental services, and lowering the eligibility age to
Regardless of whether Biden succeeds or fails in the on-again-off-again
talks with Republicans, Democrats will press on with their own massive package,
the president at least having showed he tried.
"There are two kinds of negotiation," said Democrat Barney Frank, the former
congressman and committee chairman from Massachusetts who was central to many
Obama-era legislative battles. "One that will be successful and give you a good
bill," he said, and the other that will be unsuccessful, but will at least
"take away any stigma of being partisan."
Congress is eyeing an end-of-summer deadline to launch the budget
reconciliation process, which would allow passage of the bills on majority
votes, notably in the now split 50-50 Senate where 60 votes are typically
required to advance legislation.
After that, the House and Senate would prepare the actual packages for votes
As the process drags on, it's a reminder that it took more than a year in
Congress to pass Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in spring 2010.
"Tweets are so easy," Schiliro said. "Legislating is different from that, so
to develop good legislation takes time."