How partisan politics threatened even legislation to pass in Congress | The report


With a 2-1 margin, US voters want to spend $ 1 trillion of their tax dollars to fix the country’s roads, bridges and clean water supplies. By a smaller majority, they want to make a big investment in “soft infrastructure” like grants for daycares and community colleges, as well as paid family time off and a plan to cut prescription drug costs. By overwhelming, bipartisan margins, voters are behind raising taxes on the super-rich, corporate and tobacco products.

So it would seem obvious that Congress is approving the already negotiated bipartisan infrastructure package and a version of the $ 3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” package that President Joe Biden is proposing as an essential part of his national agenda.

But both measures were delayed in the much divided Congress. And at a dead end, both sides agree it could send the country into a self-created fiscal Armageddon, the debt ceiling has not been lifted, meaning the government will not be able to pay its bills. invoices in mid-October.

House Democrats were in tense talks Thursday to meet a self-imposed deadline to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. While the measure isn’t dead if they don’t succeed, its failure would rob Biden of a much-needed political victory and momentum for his national agenda.

This isn’t the first time Democrats and Republicans in Congress have fought over legislation. But while blockages in the past have been rooted in ideological differences or pressures of outside vested interests, the current stalemate, experts say, is based on something much less negotiable and much more threatening to the legislative process. : the red team against the blue team.

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“The problem is that voting for things that are popular is no longer the way to win elections. Elections are largely won and lost by negative partisanship,” said Matt Bennett, executive vice president of Third Way, a group centrist, explaining why voter pressure does not move the votes down the Hill.

“People vote against the people they hate rather than the people they love,” he adds. “Your goal is to get the opponent to do something that will annoy voters against them rather than taking action yourself that will make voters like you.”

On paper, the infrastructure bill, negotiated with both sides and the White House, should have an easy passage over the Hill. With a margin of more than 2-1, 63% to 31%, Americans are backing the trillion dollar package, according to a recent report Suffolk University survey. A Fox News Poll produces similar results.

Still, House Republicans say they won’t vote for the package, even if it will help rebuild infrastructure in their districts. House Democrats could pass it without GOP help, but only if party factions agree on a timeline for something bigger, Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan.

This package – now at $ 3.5 trillion, but under negotiation – is also supported by a majority of the public, with 52% in favor, in the Suffolk Poll, and 39% oppose it.

“The problem is, voting for things that are popular is no longer the way to win elections.”

And when it comes to raising taxes for the rich and corporate to pay? There, the public is even more enthusiastic, according to one Peter G. Peterson Foundation survey, a non-partisan fiscal policy group. A recent survey of the foundation found that 80% of Americans (including 91% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans) approve of imposing an additional tax on all income above $ 5 million, 70% (including 88 % of Democrats and 52% of Republicans)) support an increase in the corporate tax rate, and 84% (including 90% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans) support increasing taxes on foreign corporate income.

Lawmakers don’t always need to follow voters’ demands, note historians and political scientists. On questions of principle – such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a member of Congress could go against the will of his constituents. And voters don’t always see policies in their full context. For example, if asked, they might say they want both very low taxes and generous government services – two things they can’t have together.

But in the case of Biden’s domestic agenda, the “Biden” part is poisoning the “domestic agenda” on the Hill, notes Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar who is co-author with Norm Ornstein of two books on Congress. : “The Broken Branch” and “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How America’s Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism.”

Republicans “are actually worried that as popular as it sounds now” to vote for infrastructure or other popular national proposals, “it would be bad for them,” says Mann, resident researcher at the University of California at Berkeley . “Their goal right now is to bring down Biden’s approval rating and discredit the Democratic Party in any way they can. Anything that can hurt or blame them is a popular thing.”

It’s clearly frustrating for the Biden administration. The president, who served as a senator for 36 years and at a time when fellow lawmakers were more willing to make deals, tried to sell his legislative packages to the public, encouraging them to pressure their own lawmakers.

“Our zip code here (in Washington) is sometimes a bit off of what the public wants,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters this week, asking why the popular measure didn’t was not going any faster.

On Biden’s first big national bill – a COVID-19 relief plan approved earlier this year – no House Republican voted for the $ 1.9 trillion plan. Still, at least half a dozen of them encouraged their constituents to ask for the restaurant industry relief offered in the package.

“One side just wants to deny the other a legislative victory,” no matter what the legislation actually does, laments Joshua Huder, senior researcher at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.

This even happens on an issue where both parties agree on the dangers of not passing a law. The country will hit its debt ceiling in mid-October, and if Congress does not raise or suspend the ceiling (which the legislature has already done on a pro forma basis), the country will default, damaging to the overall economy and to the stock. market, increasing unemployment and lowering the country’s credit rating, making subsequent borrowing more expensive.

The question is confusing to voters, Mann and others note, with many mistakenly believing that raising the debt ceiling gives Congress the ability to borrow and spend more. In fact, the cap applies to bills already incurred, including $ 7.8 trillion accumulated under the Trump administration. It’s not like getting a bank loan for a new Mercedes, it’s like finally paying the credit card bill that’s been lying on the kitchen counter for months.

But Republicans see it as a political opportunity, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk poll. They want Democrats to adopt the language of the debt ceiling as part of a big spending bill, so they can convince voters that the two are related. That’s why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has said he supports lifting the debt ceiling – but will not vote for it.

“Republicans think they can set people back by talking about issues like overspending,” Paleologos said. “It’s like the kid who takes his ball and goes home. No one else can play – but that line-in-the-sand mentality worked.”

Huder adds: “Parties have become so intimately linked to the legislative process that party elders are ready to make political concessions for the ruling party to do routine things. “

Deadlock in Washington has become the new routine.

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