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Climate, immigration, Medicare lead progressive highlights in Dems’ $3.5T budget plan

Climate, immigration, Medicare lead progressive highlights in Dems' $3.5T budget plan

Senate Democrats’ $ 3.5 trillion spending package will unleash a gusher of hundreds of billions of dollars for progressive priorities, from climate programs to an expansion of Medicare to promised green cards for some undocumented immigrants, according to new details released on Wednesday.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a moderate on the budget panel, briefed the rest of the Democratic caucus during lunch with President Joe Biden in the Capitol on Wednesday. They discussed some of the biggest components of the planned spending bill that Democrats aim to pass without Republican support using the budget process. That filibuster-proof process starts with a budget resolution, which Senate Democrats have agreed to set at a ceiling of $ 3.5 trillion.

And while that resolution’s text is still forthcoming, once it arrives it will have few specifics of how Democrats will turn Biden’s priorities into legislation. That makes the policy highlights unveiled Wednesday, as vague as they are, a meaningful spotlight on the scope of the party’s spending ambitions, which would be financed by a shaky combination of tax reform, health savings like lowering prescription drug costs, and the assumption of long-term economic growth.

“Let me be clear — this is a huge bill. This is a complicated bill. This is a transformative bill,” Sanders told reporters after lunch. “In some cases, it doesn’t provide all the funding that I would like right now.”

But with 50 Democrats in the upper chamber and no votes to lose, “compromises have to be made,” Sanders said.

The proposal would expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing services for seniors. It would also fund health care for about 2 million people living in red states that have refused to expand Medicaid. Both provisions were major priorities for liberals, who had originally pushed for trillions of dollars more in a total package.

As promised, the plan will include key commitments from Biden’s “families” and “jobs” plans, including universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, child care subsidies and an increase in the maximum Pell Grant to defray college costs for lower-income students. Democratic leaders also intend to fulfill the president’s pledge to provide more nutrition assistance, paid family and medical leave, and affordable housing.

Democrats plan to use the package to extend the popular increase in the Child Tax Credit, which Congress boosted in March, to a maximum of $ 3,600 a year for children under 6 years old and $ 3,000 for older kids. The plan would also continue the current increase for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the tax break for child care costs.

Many Democrats have called for a permanent extension of the Child Tax Credit, which the IRS will start sending out in monthly payments on Thursday. But Senate Democrats aren’t yet specifying the length of the extension they want to provide, stressing that it depends on the cost of the bill and additional input from lawmakers.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, cited key wins during a call with reporters on Wednesday, including universal child care, paid leave and the Medicare expansion provisions.

“There isn’t a big area of our priorities that was left out,” she said. Still, progressives will be pushing for bigger investments in child and elder care.

“You can be assured, we are pushing for as much as we can possibly get,” Jayapal said.

The inclusion of immigration policy in Democrats’ still-unwritten party-line spending bill is another huge demand for both progressives and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Both groups were relieved to see their issue included in the budget highlights, though they received few details. It’s also unclear if immigration reform will withstand the scrutiny of the Senate parliamentarian, the official who decides which provisions pass muster with the byzantine rules guiding the budget reconciliation process that governs the bill’s fate.

Progressives and Hispanic Caucus members have pushed for a pathway to citizenship for several key undocumented groups, including so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children and “essential workers” during the pandemic, including farmworkers. But a senior Democratic aide confirmed only that the budget would include legal permanent residence for immigrants, without providing additional details — which may not be known for weeks.

The early approval that the budget blueprint won from the left wing of the party didn’t extend across the entire House Democratic caucus. Several moderates privately balked at the overall price tag, which they feared would require hefty tax hikes to pay for the package and fuel GOP attacks.

To help pay for the plan, Senate Democrats plan to beef up tax enforcement and raise corporate and international taxes. They are also seeking to hike rates on “high-income” individuals, but have yet to agree on exactly what income brackets would be hit and how much more those earners would pay.

Three kinds of tax hikes are off that table, however: increases on families making less than $ 400,000 a year, small businesses and family farms — a sign that Democrats are leery of attacks casting them as “tax-and-spend” liberals.

On climate, Democrats plan to include a clean energy standard that would deliver 80 percent clean electricity by 2030. How to structure that standard in order to survive the arcane reconciliation rules remains unclear, although Democrats and environmental advocates have brainstormed a number of possible approaches.

The budget resolution would also spell out funding for clean energy and electric vehicles incentives, a civilian climate corps, a clean energy accelerator and programs to boost weatherization and electrification of buildings. Democrats are pledging to deliver on Biden’s promise to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent across the U.S. economy by 2030.

Democrats are also calling for “methane reduction” and “polluter import fees,” though it was not immediately clear what those policies would entail.

Some of the climate provisions are already giving Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) heartburn, however. After lunch with Biden, Manchin, a centrist whose vote will be critical to the budget’s success, said he’s concerned about fossil fuels getting short shrift in the final bill.

“I want to see more of the details,” he said.

Marianne LeVine, Jennifer Scholtes, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.

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Florida Dems to Biden: Don’t blow ‘golden opportunity’ on Cuba

MIAMI — Donald Trump and the GOP dominated Florida’s elections last November in part due to the former president’s hardline Latin America policy and rhetoric.

Now, in Cuba’s historic uprisings, Florida Democrats see what many are calling a “golden opportunity”: a chance for President Joe Biden to help bring democracy to the island and, as a result, attract the Hispanic voters that he hemorrhaged eight months ago.

“This is a ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ opportunity,” said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat from Miami who represents a district that Trump won. “We need to be the beacon of hope. There are people in Cuba protesting waving the American flag. That has never happened. We need to understand the moment we’re living in.”

Yet there are worries Biden could blow it by being too slow to move, too timid in his actions or by embracing the messaging from progressives who have been reluctant to denounce the Cuban regime in strong, unqualified and moralistic terms.

As the protests erupted across Cuba, Biden sent a message marked by its unambiguous language: the United States stands with those yearning to be free from the island’s “authoritarian regime.”

But others in his administration — and his party — were more circumspect in their choice of words. A State Department official suggested the demonstrations were out of “concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages,” but made no mention of the dictatorship’s repression. The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, New York’s Gregory Meeks, made a similar statement that also said nothing of the totalitarian government in Cuba, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Those subtle distinctions in language — such as explicitly calling out the dictatorial practices of the Cuban government before anything else — make a world of difference in battleground Florida.

To that end, the Florida Democratic Party’s resolutions committee approved a measure Tuesday night calling for “additional sanctions against the leaders of the failed socialist-communist regime.”

“People are taking to the streets chanting ‘Libertad’ [liberty!]. They’re not chanting ‘Vacuna!’ [vaccines!],” said Javier Fernandez, a son of Cuban exiles and a former Democratic state representative from Miami who authored the resolution, which needs to be approved by the full party’s executive committee.

Fernandez said the party “needs to be clear about what we stand for.”

“There’s a concern by some in the party that if we condemn what happens in Cuba that we’re somehow making a moral judgment on the most progressive elements of our party who have described themselves as Democratic socialists,” he said. “That concern about offending certain progressive elements in the party is why you see statements of the kind from the likes of Congressman Meeks. It’s a false equivalence that only hurts Democrats here in the U.S. and in South Florida, in particular.”

Fernandez saw firsthand how the lack of clear messaging about socialism helped doom his state Senate campaign in November as Trump and down-ballot Republicans attracted an unprecedented percentage of voters with had family ties to Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua or Colombia, where nominally socialist governments or movements led to mass migrations to Florida, particularly in its largest county of Miami-Dade.

Biden won once-deep blue Miami-Dade by only 7 percentage points in 2020 compared with Hillary Clinton’s 29-point margin four years before. If Democratic candidates fail to carry Miami-Dade by more than single digits, it’s nearly impossible for them to win the state.

Trump’s performance was so strong in Florida — and he gained so much ground with Hispanic voters — that it led national Democrats to talk in earnest about focusing more in the future on emerging swing states like Arizona and Georgia.

Florida became such an afterthought for Biden’s political operation that his White House didn’t stage a public rally and media blitz in the state to announce its decision in March to grant temporary protected immigration status to Venezuelans who fled the Maduro regime, which is allied with Cuba’s government. In May, when Biden granted TPS to Haitians, Miami Democrats likewise felt his administration should have done more to capitalize on the announcement.

The failure to highlight the administration’s efforts on immigration policy confused and disappointed Florida Democrats, leading some to fear Biden was writing off the state.

“I don’t know why I had to find out about Venezuelan TPS from the news media,” said Taddeo. She said she wanted to make sure that Biden’s administration didn’t repeat the same mistake of underplaying its hand regarding Cuba.

Taddeo and Florida pollster Fernand Amandi, a Democrat and son of Cuban exiles, said Biden needs to come to Miami and articulate a clear policy to stand with the Cuban people and bring non-military international pressure to bear on the island’s government as it cracks down on demonstrators.

Amandi said it was a “golden opportunity” for both countries to change history.

“What happened this past weekend is what 12 previous U.S. presidents were waiting for: the uprising of the Cuban people themselves as they stand up against their communist overlords,” Amandi said. “President Biden’s initial statements on the events in Cuba have captured both the right policy and the right politics. However, the events in Cuba demand more than statements and the president is going to have to engage on this issue.”

So far, Miami Democrats have been pleased to see that the Biden administration remains less aligned with Meeks and more in step with his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), who is also the son of Cuban exiles and has made sure to focus on the totalitarian nature of the Cuban dictatorship that led to the protests on the island.

Biden has privately sought Menendez’s counsel regarding Cuba — a sharp contrast with former President Barack Obama, who secretly hashed out a rapprochement with Cuba that eased restrictions in 2015. Though the U.S. unilaterally eased relations with Cuba, the dictatorship didn’t change its behavior, leading to a backlash among Latin American exile voters in South Florida.

The delicate balancing act for Biden extends beyond the congressional divide within his party and touches on the tricky question of immigration and political asylum for Cubans. Under Obama, the U.S. ended the so-called wet foot/dry foot policy that essentially gave Cubans a pathway to citizenship if they landed on U.S. soil. Officials are now concerned that Cubans could leave en masse from the island — creating a crisis akin to the 1980 Mariel Boatlift.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told Cubans and Haitians to not come to the U.S. — an ironic message from an official who migrated from Cuba himself.

That approach concerned Florida Democrats who fear that the White House still doesn’t consider Cuba or Haiti — which is also in crisis after its president was assassinated — as high priorities. While the administration has been forced to pay more attention now, White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday declined to say how Cuba ranks as a priority, or whether the president would make good on his campaign trail promise to roll back Trump-era sanctions on the island.

Biden deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said Biden is in the process of fulfilling his promise to the Cuban people and pointed to Biden’s long record of opposing “the oppression and human rights abuses of Cuba’s communist, authoritarian government. This is about fundamental values that the President has long championed. He’s committed to forming his policies toward Cuba based on two principles: that standing up for democracy and human rights is paramount, and that Americans — especially Cuban-Americans — are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.”

The Biden administration also disputes criticisms of U.S. sanctions by noting that the Cuban government is able to get food and medical supplies, and it has refused to make its Covid-19 vaccine available for scientific peer review while also refusing to join an international consortium designed to get more people vaccinated worldwide.

Guillermo J. Grenier, a Florida International University professor who conducts a well-regarded poll of Cuban-American voters, said his research last year showed that a majority supported lifting sanctions on Cuba to help with the pandemic. Grenier said it’s good policy and politics — especially if Biden makes medical supplies and vaccines easier for Cuba’s people to receive.

Grenier and other Cuba experts noticed in the Trump years that new arrivals to America were becoming increasingly and unexpectedly Republican because their relatives on the island were spreading the word that the GOP knew how to fight the regime of Raul Castro and his successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

“You wonder why all these new arrivals are crazy for Trump, it’s because it starts there. People in Cuba say you need to go to the Republican Party because they know how to handle the Cuban government,” Grenier said. “But if Biden were to do that — to help the people in their time of need with vaccines, at least — they would remember that and he would immediately raise the profile of the Democratic Party, of himself and dim the bright orange of Trump.”

While Democrats have had mixed messaging in their recent response to Cuba, Republicans have been unified in calling for tougher sanctions and denouncing repression on the island.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami native and son of Cuban immigrants, is up for reelection next year and has turned his Twitter account into a nonstop feed featuring video clips of Cuban protesters being beaten, reports of Venezuelan authorities rounding up political opponents and even the on-air arrest of a Cuban woman being interviewed by a Spanish TV station.

And Miami-based Republican Rep. Carlos Gimenez excoriated State Department Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung for her tweet about Covid-19 that failed to mention the dictatorship. Chung subsequently tweeted critical statements about repression of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.

“Democrats are dead in the water in Florida, and statements like Meeks’ are why,” said Carlos Trujillo, a son of Cuban exiles and former Republican state legislator who served as ambassador to the Organization of American States. “We’ve labeled them as socialists and communist sympathizers. And they deny it. Well, prove it. They can’t.”

Passion is so intense in Miami’s exile community that people have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Cuban people, and the city’s moderate Republican mayor, Francis Suarez, has said that Biden should consider military options if the repression continues on the island.

“The thing folks who aren’t directly familiar with Miami need to remember — there is a roadmap to winning back Hispanics from exile communities, but it starts with recognizing for most down here, Cuba is an absolute pass-fail test,” said Steve Schale, a veteran of Obama’s presidential Florida campaigns who also leads a pro-Biden super PAC, Unite The Country.

Ric Herrero, executive of the pro-engagement Cuba Study Group, said calls for military action are dangerous and counterproductive. Herrero credited the uprising to the spread of social media and Obama-era engagement policies. He said it’s time for Biden to lead and sell his policy.

“What Trump did so well is show up and make people on the ground feel like they have a direct line to Washington,” Herrero said. “It’s not just adopting the right policy: you have to sell it. Why he won’t do that in South Florida is a mystery … It has been missed opportunity after missed opportunity to change the narrative in South Florida and hold the failures of the Trump policies accountable.”

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Dems’ July Fourth is no vacation when it comes to infrastructure talks

Congressional Democrats have left Washington with one tricky task for the Fourth of July recess: Hang together on infrastructure despite growing restlessness from all corners of the party.

House Democrats took a big step forward Thursday, approving a $ 715 billion transportation bill that party leaders say could be the legislative framework for holding a floor vote on President Joe Biden’s infrastructure deal with the GOP this year. The bill was even bipartisan, with two Republicans backing it.

“We’ve just passed a major piece of legislation, which is not the president’s [infrastructure] plan but it is a significant part of what the president wants,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a brief interview Thursday. “At some point in time, we’re going to have to put them all together.”

While they eye that decision, top Democrats are also pushing ahead on a filibuster-proof spending bill that would significantly expand the social safety net while making good on the rest of Biden’s long wishlist. But the uncertain timetable for that strategy is unsettling party progressives and moderates at turns, with the latter group of Democrats particularly vocal in nudging White House officials to tee up a vote on the bipartisan deal as soon as it’s ready rather than waiting for the bigger partisan bill to go alongside it.

The effort by Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to please everyone in their caucuses gets tougher almost by the day. White House officials and top Democrats spent much of June shuttling from meeting to meeting trying to keep their votes in line, all with the tightest congressional margins in decades and no actual legislative language to work with yet.

July is expected to get even more hectic. Lawmakers and aides don’t expect much movement next week, with both chambers gone and Washington slowing to a crawl during the recess. But some groups will still meet, including Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee tasked with finalizing ways to pay for any infrastructure bill — possibly the toughest challenge of all.

House Democrats hope to take their next big step on their infrastructure plans, approving a budget blueprint that will effectively unlock their filibuster-proof process, by the end of this month.

But some moderate Democrats hope that is not the only big vote they’ll take this month, urging their leadership and the White House to hold a vote on Biden’s bipartisan agreement as soon as the text is ready.

“I think we have the votes for a bipartisan bill, as was negotiated and endorsed by President Biden. When you have the votes, you should take the vote,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).

“Those dollars need to start now,” Murphy said, adding that any infrastructure bill would run into bureaucratic headaches, such as slow-moving local permits.

Murphy, like most other centrist Democrats, also supports a bigger party-line bill passed using the budget reconciliation process that effectively sidesteps a Senate GOP filibuster. What’s critical, she and others say, is preserving support for Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal from both parties — and not scaring off those GOP supporters with a huge party-line vote at the same time.

“Let’s get that done, and then we can talk about doing other things that hopefully don’t cost trillions of dollars,” added Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), among a small number of Democrats who say a reconciliation bill might not be necessary at all.

“I’m not sure we need to do one. I’m worried about the trillions of dollars of spending,” Schrader said in an interview, saying that he’d prefer any other big spending bill to be taken up in late fall or winter, at the earliest.

The timing for Biden’s infrastructure plans, as well as Democrats’ bigger separate bill, remains uncertain. Lawmakers are eager to achieve as much as possible before the August recess, but they’re already aware that much of the work might fall to September or beyond. And those big plans could also run into trouble as Congress confronts other critical housekeeping tasks, such as lifting the U.S. debt ceiling and averting a government shutdown by Sept. 30.

For now, much of the Democrats’ unity campaign is happening behind the scenes. Several White House officials, for instance, sat down this week with leaders of both moderates and progressive groups to tout their planned dual-track approach to infrastructure. House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), tasked with shaping a budget resolution that can win almost total-unity within the caucus, also held meetings almost every day with members of key Democratic groups ahead of a floor vote as soon as late July.

The coordination isn’t simply on the Democratic side. Leaders of another group, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to hash out the potential fate of Biden’s bipartisan deal within the GOP conference.

Some in that same group also spoke this week with the Senate deal’s lead negotiators, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for further details about that chamber’s proposed compromise with Biden.

Democratic divisions could be on stark display later this month, when both chambers will need to agree to a budget blueprint that allows the party to unlock the reconciliation process. That procedural chore comes with many political landmines, with progressives and moderates outlining vastly different visions of what they’d like the Democrats-only bill to look like.

In the House, Democrats will be able to lose only three or four of their members on a floor vote. While that vote is still far off, many senior lawmakers and aides are projecting confidence that Pelosi and her leadership team will ultimately be able to keep the caucus together.

GOP leaders in both the House and Senate have so far refrained from endorsing or rebuking Biden’s bipartisan deal negotiated with five Republican senators. McCarthy has privately signaled on some occasions that he could get behind a bipartisan deal, while bashing it at other times, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in his home state Thursday that he’d like to see the bipartisan infrastructure deal move forward but cautioned that “it’s too early to tell exactly whether that will happen or not.”

McConnell earlier this week called on Pelosi and Schumer to de-link the bipartisan infrastructure deal from efforts to pass Democrats’ other priorities along party lines in a separate behemoth of a bill. But progressives have warned that they won’t support a bipartisan bill without the guarantee of a second package.

Many other Senate Republicans are withholding support for the bipartisan deal until they see more details about its funding mechanism.

Senate Democrats, too, are eager for additional information about the proposal, which has yet to be turned into legislative text.

“I am hopeful that we will have a more detailed bipartisan package … that will have been strengthened and developed with more detailed language over the two weeks” of recess, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Thursday.

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

Author: Sarah Ferris
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Top Dems working to appease fractured party on infrastructure

Top Dems working to appease fractured party on infrastructure

White House officials will head to the Hill on Tuesday to meet with small groups of Democrats, including leaders of the centrist New Democrat Coalition. Another centrist group, the Blue Dog Democrats, is set to meet with Yarmuth on Wednesday and Biden adviser Steve Ricchetti later this week, while the members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus also met with Ricchetti on Tuesday.

Less than 24 hours ago, Yarmuth privately urged a group of senior Democrats not to draw public red lines for either of the bills, whether it’s price tags or policy wishes, according to several people in the room.

“The details matter. And we don’t have those yet. So it’s just safer not to talk about top line numbers,” Yarmuth told reporters Tuesday.

Democrats in the House and Senate, contrary to his advice, have spent weeks laying out their demands. That includes the Progressive Caucus, which has repeatedly told White House officials and party leaders that its members won’t support a bipartisan infrastructure bill without a huge separate spending bill in tow.

“We have a commitment that regardless of what happens with bipartisan legislation, they will give us a reconciliation legislation that goes as far as we’ve wanted it,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said in an interview, referring to the arcane budget process Democrats plan to use to pass their second bill without a GOP vote.

Omar noted that in a recent poll of the group, 60 percent of members who responded said they would be willing to withhold their votes for a bipartisan infrastructure bill without that broader legislation.

“The linkage is non-negotiable for me,” added progressive Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who said the bipartisan compromise excluded his priorities, like affordable housing. As a result, he added, “I will refuse to vote for any bill that fails to be linked to a larger reconciliation bill.”

Some on the left were disappointed by Biden’s comments over the weekend, when he softened his threat to oppose a bipartisan bill if Democrats didn’t also deliver him a broader reconciliation bill. Biden’s clean-up job on Saturday was intended to appease GOP senators rankled by the president’s insistence on linking his two-part infrastructure playbook: a bipartisan deal in one hand and a monster party-line bill in the other.

The broader Democratic tactics were hardly a secret, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying publicly last week that Democrats wouldn’t pass an infrastructure bill “unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate.”

But Biden’s acknowledgment that Republicans were “understandably upset” by his suggestion that he’d veto a bipartisan bill without a Democrats-only companion emboldened the GOP. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday urged Biden to exact the same conciliatory clarification from Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin — whose opposition is enough to tank any party-lines bill in the Senate — reiterated on Tuesday that Congress should move forward with the process on the bipartisan infrastructure package, separate from progressives’ demands for a second bill.

“Saying ‘I’m going to not vote for the other one because you haven’t guaranteed the vote for everything,’ we’ve never done legislation that way,” Manchin told MSNBC. “I’ve never been a part of it in the 10 years I’ve been in the Senate, so let’s work the legislation the way it’s going to be presented.”

The West Virginia Democrat has indicated he would support the Democrats’ second measure, which some have dubbed the “human infrastructure” bill, but noted Tuesday that he “hasn’t agreed on the amount” and needs to see what will be in the legislation.

Manchin is among a small group of moderates in the House and Senate who say bipartisanship should take first priority and blanch at the idea of a massive one-party bill at the same time. They could halt Democrats’ plans on the floor, if they were willing to cast no votes — but so could the progressives making diametrically opposed demands.

That leaves Democratic leaders hustling to appease both ideological ends of their party with a strategy so delicate that they can’t afford any defections in the Senate, and only three or four in the House.

“There are a number of different views, but I think we will come together in support of the president’s proposals,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.

Biden, during a visit to Wisconsin, highlighted the importance of cross-aisle compromise in executing his agenda.

“Every time we negotiate in good faith and come together and get something big done, we break a little more of the ice that too often keep us frozen in place from solving real problems that people are facing,” Biden said at the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility on Tuesday afternoon.

Back on the Hill, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries declined to say whether his chamber would only vote on a bipartisan bill if the Senate first sends over a bigger, partisan bill. Jeffries added that he wouldn’t necessarily call one “contingent” on the other.

“The speaker and majority leader have been very clear about how we’re gonna proceed,” Jeffries said, adding that Democrats planned to pass legislation with big investments in affordable housing, elder care, child care and a “green sustainable economy.”

Such careful wordsmithing comes as Congress nears what is expected to be a frenetic July. Democrats in both chambers will need to unite on a budget blueprint to unlock their party’s powers to muscle through a bill without GOP votes — without scaring off Republicans in the upper chamber.

At stake is a Democrats-only reconciliation bill that some lawmakers are already predicting could mark their party’s biggest achievement in more than a decade.

“Ultimately, the speaker said, there’s not many Democrats who will want to vote against childcare, early childhood education, extended child tax credit, climate change, jobs. There’s just not many Democrats who are gonna vote against that,” Yarmuth said.

Marianne LeVine and Brittany Gibson contributed to this report.

Author: Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu
This post originally appeared on Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

House Dems head off retirement crisis — for now

House Dems head off retirement crisis — for now

Six Democrats so far have announced they will be leaving the House in 2022, most in swing districts where the lack of an incumbent likely makes it tougher for the party to hold the seat. Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, will likely be added to that list, as he’s expected to jump into his state’s Senate race later this summer.

But party strategists say that figure is smaller than they expected, delivering a morale boost for Democrats as they brace for a midterm election that could dismantle their narrow majority. And some swing-seat members in Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida — many of whom were openly mulling futures outside the House — are now expected to stay put.

“I’m just really happy that they’re staying here and fighting the good fight,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) of the several members of Pennsylvania’s House delegation who will be seeking reelection instead of vying for an open Senate seat.

“I think the impression that you give when everybody flees is that it’s a sinking ship. But I don’t think it’s a sinking ship,” Wild said.

It is still early, and there will almost certainly be another exodus of members next year after a potentially painful round of redistricting for Democrats. Some seats in states like Florida and Texas could see purple districts rendered unwinnable by map-drawing Republicans — which could spur some members, even those who have already said they would run for reelection, to head abruptly for the exits. And both parties will be closely monitoring the political environment for indications of what voters will want in 2022: a check on Democratic control of Washington, or further distancing from former President Donald Trump’s GOP.

But Democratic lawmakers and aides say their party has so far avoided the worst-case scenario, in which their most battle-tested members jump ship even before the redistricting commences.

And crucial census data needed to draw new maps is delayed, freezing recruitment in nearly every state. That makes it even more important incumbents stick around because they are armed with high name ID, fully funded coffers and ready-to-go campaign teams for a compressed election. Otherwise, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is stuck scrambling to recruit when new maps finally come out — with little time to entice strong contenders into swing-seat races during the first midterm of a Democratic president.

“There is a normal amount of cycling out,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who leads the House Democrats’ campaign arm. “I think people are energized. … I think being able to show results and deliver for your district makes you more excited about being in Congress. They’re coming back.”

So far, three House Democrats have declared bids for higher office: Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Val Demings (D-Fla.). Lamb will likely become the fourth when he enters Pennsylvania’s Senate race in the coming months.

Yet while Democrats will lose Lamb, they will keep both Dean and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), both of whom had been openly considering jumping into the Senate primary. Both hold relatively safe districts under the current lines, but they might not once Pennsylvania’s GOP legislature and Democratic governor are done squabbling over the new borders.

Democrats are also losing Demings and Crist in Florida, but they are expected to keep Murphy, who ruled out a Senate bid and has begun fundraising for her House run, according to people close to her. That’s a huge boon for Democrats, who consider her to be a star recruit with a powerful biography — she fled Vietnam by boat as an infant, and her family was rescued at sea by the U.S. Navy — and a strong donor pool.

Another Democrat, Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), has also been floated for a potential run for governor or state attorney general in his home state. But the former Phoenix mayor has recently told colleagues he does not plan to run statewide, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Down in Tucson, Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick has already announced her retirement.

After the retirement of Rep. Filemón Vela (D-Texas), there were some Democratic fears that Gonzalez would also start eyeing the exits. Trump saw a surge in support in the rural regions of the Rio Grande Valley, and Gonzalez saw his once-comfortable victory margins slip into just a 3-point win.

“I actually think my neighbor retiring even simplifies my redistricting,” he said, noting that it lessens the competition for a winnable seat in the region.

The House GOP campaign arm seized on the fact that Gonzalez had recently repaid a $ 250,000 loan to himself as a sign of a pending retirement. But in an interview with POLITICO, he said he always planned on repaying the loan and meant to do it sooner. “I could have done it last year,” he said. “We didn’t spend very much money on our campaign — obviously.”

He said it was “absolutely not” a sign that he plans to retire: “In fact, if I had to loan myself more money, I would do it.”

Another battleground Democrat in south Texas, Rep. Henry Cuellar, is also building his campaign team for another run, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Potentially open Senate seats in Iowa and Wisconsin could lure House Democrats into those races — but neither Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) nor Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has decided on their plans.

In Iowa, Rep. Cindy Axne is considering whether she will run for another term in the House, make a bid for Senate or challenge GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds. “She is still weighing all three of those electoral options,” Ian Mariani, Axne’s spokesperson, said in a statement.

But Democrats on Capitol Hill said they would be surprised if she entered the race. And former Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) is expected to run for Grassley’s seat.

In southern Wisconsin, Rep. Ron Kind said he hasn’t decided if he will make a run for Senate against Johnson, but there is already a crowded Democratic field in the race, and few think he will take that course.

“I have no reason to believe that he’s not running for Congress again. When he and I talk, that’s what he’s planning on,” fellow Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Mark Pocan said. Another reason to stay: redistricting might not hurt him. “I have to shed 49,000 people,” said Pocan, who represents deep-blue Madison. “So he’ll likely get some of my district.”

“There are numerous easy scenarios where my district gets healthier after redistricting,” Kind agreed.

“I still enjoy the work,” Kind said, and he would probably face the same Republican opponent, whom he already beat once last November. But he also hasn’t ruled out retiring.

“It’s just gotten nasty and so polarized,” he said. “And then, when two-thirds of your colleagues across the aisle, hours after the insurrection, come in and vote to overturn the election result. What’s going on?”

Author: Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris
This post originally appeared on Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

‘A lot of people are jaded’: Dems despair amid D.C. gridlock

More significant, the number of Democrats who say things broadly are heading in the wrong direction is ticking up. The percentage of Americans who believe the country is off on the wrong track hit 57 percent in a Monmouth University poll last week, and that includes nearly a third of Democrats. An Economist/YouGov poll found one-fifth of voters who cast their ballots for Biden last year now think the country is heading in the wrong direction.

And though Democrats are still broadly behind Biden, they are souring significantly on Congress. A Gallup poll on Tuesday put Congress’ approval rating at 26 percent, the lowest level since January, the month Biden took office. That swing was driven largely by Democrats, whose support for Congress plummeted 16 percentage points from last month, to 38 percent.

“It’s just frustration,” said Kelly Dietrich, a former Democratic fundraiser and founder of the National Democratic Training Committee, which trains candidates across the country. “Even us realists want it to move faster.”

The frustration isn’t just showing up in polling. Progressive Democrats have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks, popping off at Biden for relying too heavily on negotiations with Republicans to pass infrastructure spending or for making too little use of his bully pulpit to support elections reform.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called Vice President Kamala Harris’ comments in Guatemala on immigration “disappointing,” while Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) chose even harsher words, rebuking Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia, as the “new Mitch McConnell.”

On Tuesday, 10 people were arrested outside Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Phoenix office during a protest of her opposition to abandoning the filibuster.

“A lot of people are jaded,” desperate to see Washington “actually start to move some stuff,” said Yvette Simpson, chief executive of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America.

Ever since Congress passed Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill earlier this year, Simpson said, “we’re flatlined. There’s no real significant change that we can see for anything else on the horizon.”

If Democrats can’t break the logjam, she said, the party will pay for it in 2022. “I think it hurts the energy. I think it hurts the momentum.”

In part, Biden and the Democratic Party are suffering from a hangover after sweeping Trump from office and emerging from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, described the moment as little more than a “natural dip” following the initial euphoria surrounding a new administration and a pandemic whose response “Biden nailed.”

Despite acknowledging on Tuesday that it will likely miss its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the nation’s adults against Covid-19 by July 4, cases and deaths have declined sharply, and much of the country is opening up. The Biden administration estimates that for people aged 27 and up, it will hit the 70 percent vaccination threshold by July 4.

“Look, we’re six months into the administration,” Herman said. “Isn’t that when we always write these stories?”

Others are equally sanguine, pointing to the political realities currently confronting the party — among them, razor-thin Democratic majorities in Congress, and the effectiveness of blockades that have been thrown up by the GOP.

Joseph Foster, chair of the Democratic Party in suburban Philadelphia’s Montgomery County, said of the party’s legislative setbacks, “We have this tiny, thin majority … It’s not as though the party’s at fault.”

Still, Foster said he has been hearing more and more frustration from fellow Democrats recently.

“They feel as though the party has not come through,” he said.

It’s not just that the Biden honeymoon is coming to an end, as happens in every presidency. It’s that, for Democrats, the expectations for Biden were so much higher in comparison to Trump — and the reality so difficult to swallow. Democrats turned out in historic numbers in the presidential election last year. That was in large part a repudiation of Trump, but it was also based on Biden’s promise of an expansive agenda.

Democratic organizers and activist groups spent months registering and turning out young people and people of color who powered Democrats to victories in key swing states on the promise not just of outlasting Trump and surviving the pandemic, but of emerging better for it.

Today, reality has set in. In the most recent Monmouth survey, 32 percent of Democrats said things in the country were off on the wrong track, compared to 12 percent in the same poll in April, a 20 percentage point swing.

That’s a reflection of “angst that [Biden] won’t get everything done that they thought he might be able to get done at the beginning of this term,” said Patrick Murray, who oversees the Monmouth poll.

“It’s more of his own base becoming less enthusiastic because they might not get everything they thought they would get down the road,” he said. “The problem for that for the midterms is a less enthusiastic base hampers turnout.”

Even moderate Democrats are growing worried about stasis in Washington — and what it could mean for upcoming midterm elections, where historical trends suggest the party could lose its House majority in the absence of a robust turnout.

“You’ve got to make the case that Biden and the Democrats are doing everything they possibly can to move the country forward, and they’ve got more work to do to make that case,” said Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way.

Bennett said Democrats need to do a better job reminding voters about the massive scale of Biden’s coronavirus relief package Congress passed. Still, Bennett said, “What I worry about most is that if that’s the only major legislation that gets done in this Congress, and I’m not convinced it will be … [but] if it’s the only thing, I worry that we won’t be able to weave that into a compelling story, even though we should be able to.”

One Democratic strategist who works with major party donors said bluntly that the party is “f—– in the midterms if we don’t get s— done soon.”

After Republicans blocked the voting rights bill Tuesday, Biden vowed that “this fight is far from over,” and his still-high approval rating among Democrats suggests that many are still willing to give him time.

Larry Cohen, the former Communications Workers of America president who now chairs the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, described the state of politics in Washington as “tragic.” But he insisted that Biden and Democrats in Congress still have time to make headway on Democratic priorities, including through executive actions and with a second spending package using budget reconciliation, the process by which Democrats can pass major budget-related measures on a simple majority.

“The question is going to be what does get done,” he said, “and is it enough to make a difference in people’s lives.”

The party’s success in bringing Manchin, a late holdout, on board for the voting rights bill unified the caucus, allowing Democrats to lay blame for that defeat explicitly at the feet of Republicans. Dietrich said Republican obstructionism is something that resonates with Democrats, and it’s the reason he’s not worried about intraparty frustration spilling into the midterms.

“Democrats understand the problem’s not with other Democrats,” Dietrich said. “The problem is we don’t have enough Democrats in the Senate right now.”

Like Bennett, Dietrich said Democrats are “accomplishing some pretty good stuff.”

The problem, he said, is “It’s not going to be the landslide we were hoping.”

Author: David Siders
This post originally appeared on Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories