Senate Republicans are hoping they successfully laid spending traps that will scuttle, or significantly water down, President Biden’s $3.5 trillion package.
Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), believe that by passing a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan bill through the Senate, they’ve made it harder for Democrats to rally behind the larger package without at least making changes that lower the overall price tag.
And they are publicly rooting for, and raising pressure on, moderates in both chambers who have signaled unease about the size of the Democratic-only package.
“I’m praying for Joe Manchin [D-W.Va.] and Kyrsten Sinema [D-Ariz.], the two Democratic senators that seem to have some resistance to all this. I pray for their good health and wise judgement every night. I recommend you do the same,” McConnell said during a stop in Kentucky.
Democrats are pursuing Biden’s infrastructure and spending package, the core of his economic and legislative agenda, through two tracks. The first is a $1 trillion bill that was negotiated by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators that includes money for areas such as roads, bridges, rail, broadband and water. It passed the Senate last month with the support of 19 GOP senators and all 50 members of the Democratic caucus.
The second is a sweeping $3.5 trillion social spending package that includes some of the party’s long-held priorities such as expanding Medicare, shoring up the Affordable Care Act, combating climate change and providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Both House and Senate Democrats passed a budget resolution that greenlights them passing the package without GOP support in the Senate.
That means Republicans are largely powerless to block the bill — if Democrats remain unified. But with deep divisions in the House and the Senate among moderates and progressives, Republicans are hopeful that Democrats will have to drop part of the package.
“We’ll see if they can get 50 Democrats. I think that that next bill is such a stretch that it’s going to be a lot harder for them to do than they think it is,” Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told KFTK-FM, a Missouri radio station.
“And I think by taking the infrastructure off the table that everybody knows we need to do … it makes it harder for them to get all 50 of their members to vote for this next bill,” Blunt added. “I think they’ve got their work cut out for them.”
Part of the thinking for Senate Republicans is that by helping pass the $1 trillion bill, they’ve picked off the parts of infrastructure that attract the most bipartisan support and are making Democrats carry the water alone on their larger spending package.
“Why am I going to eat my spinach if I already have my dessert? Pretty good logic, right? And you know someone who accepts that logic is Mitch McConnell,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said during a recent Facebook Live Q&A.
“You may not like Mitch, you may not trust Mitch, but there is no better analyst of how to better achieve Republican goals in Congress than Mitch McConnell. And he thinks that passing this bill makes it less likely that Democrats are able to pass their $3.5 trillion tax and spending extravaganza,” Cassidy added.
Republicans are hoping that their united opposition puts pressure on Democratic divisions, a strategy that is similar to the one Senate Democrats used during the Trump era as they tried to keep the public spotlight on moderate GOP senators in the fight over repealing ObamaCare.
“There’s a huge fight going on in Congress over this. … It’s all going to unfold here in the next few weeks, and I and my colleagues are going to do everything we can to stop it,” McConnell told KET, a Kentucky TV station.
Not every Republican agrees that they’ve buried landmines for Democrats’ spending package. Conservatives, who opposed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, warned that by helping pass it, Senate Republicans paved the way for the $3.5 trillion bill.
“I don’t think Republicans should be complicit in the ticking inflation bomb we’re facing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “It is the gateway drug to the Democrats’ reckless tax-and-spend bill.”
But so far, Republicans are seeing some dividends in their effort to derail the bill.
Manchin and Sinema have both indicated that they can’t support a price tag of $3.5 trillion.
Manchin is also sparking fierce progressive ire after he called for Democrats to hit “pause” on the $3.5 trillion plan while pushing for the House to quickly pass the $1 trillion measure, citing other concerns, including inflation, the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and the delta variant of the coronavirus.
“Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation. A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not,” Manchin wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Republicans quickly took notice.
“Sen Manchin deserves kudos for standing up to the radical Dems by urging they press the ‘pause’ button on their $4.2 trillion tax & spending spree Your common sense take in WSJ is refreshing & is type of mainstream D thought that’s been sorely missing Stick to your guns!” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted.
Republicans could also use the reconciliation bill to squeeze Democrats on hot-button issues, including defunding the police, the Hyde Amendment, hiring 100,000 new police officers and prohibiting the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools after they got nonbinding language in the budget blueprint.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is urging his members to use the reconciliation bill to try to squeeze Democrats on Afghanistan following the messy U.S. withdrawal.
“There will also be opportunities during House Committee action that is scheduled over the coming weeks, including the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] and mark-ups of Democrat reconciliation legislation,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to GOP lawmakers. “We must exert maximum pressure on the Democrat majority with our amendments and debate during these Committee sessions.”
Via The Hill