The rest of the president’s priorities — and those of the progressive wing of his party — are in a still-to-be-fleshed-out plan to be passed, they hope, by a simple majority vote. But the Hill reports that “Democrats … will have a hard time wrapping up work on a reconciliation package by October.”
That’s not good enough.
No doubt there will be calls to slow down. Some will be fairly frivolous: According to Politico, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has told Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that she won’t delay her vacation if he holds the Senate open further into August. No doubt there are other Democrats eager to get away. But it’s tough to see how any Democrat (let alone one already unpopular with many of her constituents) could justify risking a top Biden priority for some rest and relaxation.
The more serious objection, as expressed by Manchin on CNN’s “State of the Union,” will be that the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill is too large and needs to be negotiated. “Everyone should be concerned about debt. We’re at … almost $28.6 trillion of debt,” he told host Jake Tapper. “Someone should be concerned about getting your financial house in order.”
Setting aside the misleading comparison of household vs. government finances, Manchin’s concern is undercut by the fact that the bipartisan deal uses some hazy math to supposedly pay for the package. And why exactly this $3.5 trillion package triggers Manchin’s worries, not the other trillions he’s backed since Biden took office, went unexplained.
But Manchin and Sinema don’t hold all the cards here. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said repeatedly the House won’t pass the bipartisan deal without passing a reconciliation bill. And even Manchin knows who has the power. “I would never, ever, ever try to advise Speaker Pelosi,” he told CBS, a sentiment he repeated on CNN. With the backing of House progressives, some of whom have threatened to scuttle the bipartisan deal if the reconciliation bill doesn’t go through, Pelosi has leverage to limit how long Manchin and others can spend whittling down the $3.5 trillion.
There are also positive knock-on effects from getting both houses of Congress back into session now. First, it means that lawmakers can reinstate the eviction moratorium that lapsed Saturday. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s action in late June, the executive branch can no longer unilaterally extend the moratorium; unfortunately, the White House didn’t ask Congress to do so until almost the last minute. The result: potential disaster for more than 6 million renters struggling with their payments thanks to the pandemic. Worse, billions in rental relief that was passed months ago specifically to address this crisis still hasn’t gone out.
The good news is there’s consensus among the Democrats on this issue. “We should be compassionate. We should help,” Manchin told CNN. “The House should reconvene and call this vote and extend the moratorium,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on the same show. There’s no reason not to pass a fix in both houses as soon as possible.
The end of the eviction moratorium wasn’t the only depressing deadline that passed this weekend. Two years ago, in a bipartisan vote, Congress suspended the debt ceiling until this July 31. But as my colleague Catherine Rampell wrote, “A Democrat is back in the White House. Which means, right on schedule, Republicans are again trying to take the economy hostage.” The Treasury Department can deploy some accounting tricks to push back the debt limit, but sooner rather than later, Congress has to raise it, or risk Social Security payments, military salaries or even a worldwide financial crisis. The faster the twin infrastructure bills pass, the more room Democrats have to deal with Republicans’ shenanigans around the debt.
The most important reason to act quickly is that the times demand it. With the delta variant throwing many reopening plans for a loop, and with continued petulance from Republicans impeding the pandemic response, the faster stimulus and relief can arrive, the better. And with a tied Senate and a narrowly divided House, you never know when events can intervene and change the balance of power. Americans need help now. This is Democrats’ best chance to provide it — and the sooner they act, the better.