LOWRY/Biden revolution sputters before starting
It’s finally dawned on President Joe Biden that he barely controls the House and the Senate.
His remarks last Tuesday taking a swipe at Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were notable less for how they publicly aired an intraparty dispute than for their utter banality.
“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’” he said, referring to himself in the third person in classic Washington fashion. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”
Of course, he’s completely right (except for the part about Manchin and Sinema voting with Republicans — they are reliable Democratic votes).
Not only is it true that Biden has narrow majorities, this is likely to be a defining feature of his presidency. Unforeseen events always take a hand, but it seems likely that one of the headlines at the end of the Biden years will be, “The president had vaulting ambitions, frustrated by razor-thin (and perhaps, temporary) legislative majorities.”
Somehow, this was apparently passed over or brushed aside at Biden’s session with liberal historians at the White House that focused on how he could be a transformative leader in the mold of FDR or LBJ.
And it didn’t figure in the spate of wishful commentary around the time of the passage of the COVID-19 relief bill that Biden was indeed on track to be the next FDR.
Of course, Franklin Roosevelt had a historic majority in the House and a healthy majority in the Senate, which were what made it possible for him to be FDR. Needless to say, he wasn’t complaining that a couple of wayward Democrats were keeping him from doing anything shortly after the completion of his first 100 days.
The left’s reaction to Biden’s predicament is to blame Manchin for being so stubbornly supportive of the filibuster.
Rev. William J. Barber II, a civil rights leader, told The Washington Post in frustration, “They need to let Manchin understand we elected Joe Biden — not Joe Manchin — to be president.”
True enough, although many voters surely believed they were electing someone like Manchin as president — an old-school pragmatist who’d object at overturning a long-standing Senate practice in a headlong rush to try to match the legislative output of transformational progressive presidents.
Manchin has been the focus of attention on the filibuster, so much so that he’s complained about reporters badgering him about it. Sinema, though, sounds equally adamant and there are other Senate Democrats who would go along with it if the party decided to go nuclear, but have no enthusiasm for the idea.
Regardless, on a number of high-profile issues like the $15 minimum wage and the H.R. 1 voting bill, Biden’s problem isn’t getting to 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. It’s getting to 50 for a simple majority.
That the White House has been so willing to try to negotiate with Senate Republicans on infrastructure is probably a sign that it doesn’t have 50 votes for the current Biden proposal, either.
There’s no doubt that Biden is going to be able to spend a lot of money, although a new ruling from the Senate parliamentarian has dashed the hopes of Democrats that they might be able to use reconciliation — the budget process that bypasses the filibuster — multiple times this year.
But big, sweeping measures — like the voting bill, climate legislation and immigration changes — are out of reach absent a sea change.
A couple of months from now, it could be obvious that the highly touted Biden revolution is sputtering to a stop before it even gets started.
If so, the fault won’t be Manchin’s or Sinema’s, or in our stars, but in the simple fact that Biden doesn’t have enough votes in Congress — never did and never will.
Rich Lowery is editor of National Review, a leading conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley.