As of today, the Democrats can count on 634 more days in power. In all likelihood they will lose their majority in at least one house of Congress, and probably both, on January 3, 2023. After that, nothing meaningful will pass for the next two years.
Since WW II, the party in power has lost, on average, 22 seats in the mid-term election. The Democrats have only five seats to spare in the House and none in the Senate. The odds of their retaining power aren’t zero, but it’s pretty close to that.
So, they’ve got to get done everything they can in the next 600 or so days. And everything they can is not everything they want. That’s because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (and probably others) are in the way. The two most prominent Democratic moderates essentially get to decide what gets to Joe Biden’s desk.
That’s where the Camry comes in. The standard Toyota is the basic Ford of our era. It’s not flashy, but it is reliable and reasonably priced, all things considered. And that’s a good analogy for what the Democrats might get done.
They’ve already done pretty well in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package. I thought it was more than what was needed, but it did include some good stuff. Probably the best thing was the child tax credit of up to $300 per month per child, which arrives each month as an actual check from the government. That one provision is projected to cut childhood poverty in half. And, of course, having fewer poor kids will end up saving us a bundle over the course of their lives, if you just want to be transactional about it.
So, they could start there. Make the credit permanent, as it would otherwise expire next year. That should be acceptable to Manchin and other moderates as it was a variation on a Mitt Romney plan.
Next, they should be able to pass some form of an infrastructure bill. The Senate parliamentarian has just ruled that the Democrats can use reconciliation maybe as many as three more times before they lose power. Biden may be playing fast and loose with the definition of infrastructure, and so his ambitious plans may need to be scaled back, but the basics — fixing roads and bridges, expanding broadband, investing more in research and making some progress on climate change — should get through, no problem.
Finally, the Dems may be able to expand Medicare to include eye glasses and dental care and they might be able to lower the age of eligibility to 60 or 62. Those should be popular things in Manchin’s West Virginia and Sinema’s Arizona.
And, you know what, that would be a pretty good 634 days work. In fact, it might even be so popular that they could defy the odds and actually add to their majorities in the 2022 elections. Franklin Roosevelt was able to pull that off in 1934.
But here’s the thing. Because Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he will fight Biden every step of the way, there’s little or no chance to get any Republican votes for anything substantial — and certainly not the 10 needed to break a filibuster. And it’s also clear that the filibuster isn’t going away, though it should.
That means that anything that isn’t budget related, and therefore available for a simple majority vote under reconciliation, will need 60 votes. So, forget about dealing with guns, immigration or voting rights. Biden should use whatever executive powers he has to make some progress on those issues, but they’re a non-starter in Congress because nothing meaningful will get by Manchin.
Just to be clear, that’s not what I want. I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that 11 million undocumented people, most of them important to our economy, are going away. It makes sense to give them a path to citizenship. And it’s also stupid not to expand background checks, outlaw assault weapons and large magazines and enact red flag laws. Finally, we should abolish extreme partisan gerrymandering. It’s not that I don’t support those things; it’s that I think none of them can happen in this Congress.
And, of course, if Justice Stephen Breyer retires, the Democrats can install a young left-center justice who will hold that seat for a generation. But again here, no far left jurist will pass muster with Manchin.
So, that’s your Camry: start to rebuild America’s “D” rated infrastructure, lift 10 million kids out of poverty and expand Medicare to 23 million more people. That’s putting the pedal to the metal on the old Toyota. And it just might earn the Democrats another two years in power after all.