The Democrats, in charge of both houses of Congress, have a long list of priorities and time is short before midterm elections.
Lawmakers must continue to fund the U.S. coronavirus response, pass a robust Ukraine aid package, produce compromise legislation on a global competitiveness bill and revive some version of Build Back Better — all before the August recess.
After that, focus will invariably shift to the midterm contest, which many expect to be a repeat of the Obama-era shellacking that Democrats suffered in 2010.
Washington has much at stake, from easing the supply-chain crisis we see play out everyday at the Port of Seattle to efforts that will blunt the worsening impact of climate change on our state.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wisely has tapped Washington’s U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, to help lead some of those efforts.
In conversation with The Seattle Times editorial board Wednesday, Pelosi said Democrats have “zero intention” of losing their congressional majority in November. However, historical trends and the unrelenting sting of inflation do not bode well for the party in power.
This makes the next few months critical. Democrats cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but neither can they allow the opportunity for transformational change to slip through their fingers.
Fortunately, the Speaker is a dealmaker who understands that balance.
Although Republicans have balked at Democratic efforts to tie COVID-19 funding to support for Ukraine, Pelosi said she expects Congress to find common ground on President Joe Biden’s $33 billion ask to help the beleaguered nation continue its fight against Russia’s invasion.
Another example of consequential bipartisan legislation likely to make it to the president’s desk will help the U.S. remain economically competitive with China and ease the supply-chain crunch.
DelBene was named to the bipartisan conference committee that will work out the differences between the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act and the House’s America COMPETES Act, both of which promise to invest billions in U.S. manufacturing and scientific research and innovation.
As head of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, the largest caucus in the House, she is a good choice to help shepherd this important piece of legislation. While DelBene is passionate about her beliefs — and has led the charge on the expanded child tax credit that helped cut monthly child poverty by about 30% — she is also a pragmatic leader who understands the value of compromise.
“It’s important that folks think about this, it isn’t just an investment in trying to address the challenges we face today,” she said. “It’s making a long-term commitment to put us in a better place into the future.”
Even more vital for America’s long-term success are many of the provisions included in the Build Back Better Act, but that is where bipartisanship remains disappointingly elusive.
Regardless that most Americans support many of its components — including funding for affordable housing investments, expanding health care coverage, paid leave and extending the child tax credit — no Republican support means the bill must be passed through the budget reconciliation process.
“People say to me, ‘I don’t understand, chop that Build Back Better up in pieces and pass it.’ Well, the reason it’s a bill is because it’s 51 votes. And we don’t have 60 votes for each of these things individually,” Pelosi said, referring to the simple Senate majority required to pass legislation under reconciliation.
Narrow control of the Senate has given Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., outsized sway. Their opposition has whittled away most of Build Back Better, but there is still hope that negotiations between the White House and the holdout Democrats will at least produce the kind of dramatic investment needed to stave off climate change disaster.
Whatever deal emerges, disappointment is inevitable, Pelosi said, but that’s the nature of compromise. “What they (the conference committee) agree to we would pass in the House,” she said.
That’s the kind of realpolitik that gets things done but is unlikely to energize voters or mollify progressives who are feeling betrayed. Democrats are probably headed for a challenging November, but in the meantime, they must keep fighting the good fight.