Not if Manchin (D-W.Va.) refuses to go along. In a 50-50 Senate, the president needs every Democrat plus Vice President Harris to ram through his bill without any GOP support. That means the West Virginia senator has veto power. Now is the moment to exercise that power and prod Biden to live up to his rhetoric about unity and cooperation.
If Biden refuses to work with these Republicans, and doesn’t use their proposal as the basis for a bipartisan compromise, then his inaugural address was a lie. In that speech, Biden said that “with unity we can … overcome this deadly virus.” Well, he has 10 Republicans offering to help him do just that. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has put forward a $618 billion plan that contains many of Biden’s priorities, including $160 billion for vaccines and testing, an extension of unemployment insurance and $1,000 stimulus checks targeted to lower-income Americans. This is on top of the $900 billion package Congress just passed in December — for a total of about $1.5 trillion in new covid relief since Biden’s election. That’s a lot of money. And the fact that Collins is bringing nine other Republicans with her to the table means she is offering Biden the chance to pass his first major legislation with a bipartisan, filibuster-proof majority. If Biden looks at that offer and says: Sorry, folks, but I’m going to jam my $1.9 trillion plan through using just Democratic votes, then bipartisanship is dead — and all his soothing rhetoric about “unity” was nothing more than fiction.
Biden has nothing to lose and everything to gain by accepting these Republicans’ outstretched hand. If there is a need for additional stimulus, he can always put forward another relief package. Congress has passed five covid relief bills in the past year. It can always pass another. And the argument that every penny in Biden’s plan is urgently needed is a ruse. As Collins and her colleagues pointed out in their letter to the president, “billions of dollars remain unspent from the previous covid relief packages.”
It would be a lot better for Biden to cooperate with Republicans of his own volition, rather than to have Manchin force him to do it. But if Manchin backs Collins, then Biden will have no choice. There is good reason to hope Manchin will do so. After all, the plan Collins presented Monday emerged from discussions in the group Manchin and Collins led together to forge bipartisan consensus on covid relief — the same group that paved the way for December’s stimulus package.
Instead of seizing the opportunity for bipartisanship, the administration has been trying to strong-arm Manchin into backing the Biden plan. Last week, the vice president appeared on local West Virginia television — an interview the White House requested — to pressure Manchin. It backfired. Manchin slammed Harris: “I saw [the interview], I couldn’t believe it. . . . We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward, I think we need to. But we need to work together. That’s not a way of working together.”
He’s right. Unity means more than “lowering the temperature” and not insulting one another. It requires compromise and moderation. This is Biden’s big test. Is he committed to bipartisanship in deed, not just in word? Is he willing to compromise and strong enough to stand up to his party’s left wing and his own staff to do so? Or is he all talk, and no action, when it comes to his promise of unity?
After his election, Biden said, “The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another — it’s not some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a decision, a choice we make. If we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.” So, decide to cooperate, Mr. President. Don’t wait for Joe Manchin to make you do it.