As we head into the summer, the media’s eye falls not on an upcoming election or partisan positioning, but rather on substantive policy-making. This year, a few key pieces of legislation have the potential to shape the legacy of the Biden administration, the Democratic Congress and, indeed, the nation or decades to come.
First up is the mammoth infrastructure plan known as the American Jobs Plan. The plan aims to spend around 2 trillion dollars rebuilding many roads and bridges, as well as investing in sources of clean energy, such as electric cars, and in the research and development of future technologies. The President, Vice President, and members of his Cabinet hit the road earlier this month to tout the plan, visiting many states including Louisiana and Ohio. Some Senate Republicans, like Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, have shown some interest in hatching a compromise, but their efforts may be clouded by recent comments by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has stated that his main priority is to see that the Biden agenda fails. Top Democrats in the Senate, like Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, are waiting to see how the compromise efforts unfold but have made it clear that legislative action will occur, no matter what. But even if Democrats try to pass it along party-lines, they will still need to get Conservative Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona on board. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California will also face a tough battle to wrangle the votes of the moderate Democrats in her chamber like Jared Golden of Maine. The chances of this bill’s passage are fair, but it will require either a rare bipartisan breakthrough or a successful garnering of almost every Democrat in Congress to vote for the bill in order for it to pass without any Republican support.
Another priority item on Capitol hill is President Biden’s American Families Plan, aiming to massively expand childcare, healthcare, and education. As opposed to infrastructure, which is historically a bipartisan calling card, this plan is much less likely to have a bipartisan negotiation. Many Democrats are eager to pass the bill, which includes paid sick leave, lowering health care premiums, and a large investment in free childcare, and early and higher education. Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady and community college professor, has been traveling to states such as Utah, Nevada, Virginia, and West Virginia over the past couple of weeks to tout the bill. In addition to pushback from Republicans and more conservative Democrats, many Progressives, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, are asking that more action be taken on lowering prescription drug costs and childcare – items that Sanders and Warren both championed when they ran for president last year. Due to the divisive subject, this bill faces an even more uphill trek to become law than the Jobs Plan.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act focuses on reforming policing after last year’s brutal murder of George Floyd and other innocent Black men and women. The only way this bill can pass is if both parties compromise. On the Democratic side, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Karen Bass of California are leading the negotiations, with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina leading them on the Republican side. Recent reports indicate that the negotiators are nearing an agreement on the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, though the issue of qualified immunity is a sticking point that has been holding up talks for weeks now. The bill may pass, but only if Booker, Bass, and Scott can reach a deal before the public and lawmakers lose interest.
The question remains whether Washington can, with Democrats in control of the House, Senate, and Presidency, pass any or all of these pieces of legislation before the Congressional August recess. The stakes are high for many lawmakers – how they vote may determine their chances of reelection in the 2022 midterm elections. In short, the next few months are the only actual window for legislative progress until the spring of 2025.