Joe Biden has been bragging for months about how well he worked with Republicans on legislation during his time in the Senate. True to his word, Biden met with 10 Republican senators in the Oval Office on Monday to let them have their say in support of a $618 billion pandemic relief compromise proposal.
But at the exact same time he was meeting with the GOP Senators, Democrats on the Hill were beginning to craft a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill using the reconciliation process with no Republican support.
The GOP compromise plan isn’t going anywhere and everyone in Washington knows it. Biden was simply checking another box off his presidential to-do list. “Unity” and “bipartisanship” are campaign slogans, not operational plans for this president going forward., but now he can tell the voters “I tried bipartisanship, and sadly, it didn’t work.”
At least for the pandemic relief package, he won’t need any Republican support.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who helped organize the meeting, praised Biden for hosting GOP senators: “We’re very appreciative that as his first official meeting in the Oval Office that the president chose to spend so much time with us.” But she also acknowledged there wasn’t an explicit breakthrough between sides that are so far apart.
“I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting,” Collins told reporters at the White House. She said the senators, Biden and White House aides agreed to keep talking.
Republicans also have a stake in playing into this bipartisan schtick of the president. It’s useful theater for the GOP to pretend, along with some Democrats, that any kind of a deal short of $1.9 trillion will be acceptable to the radical left wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, once this relief bill is signed, the ink won’t be dry before Bernie Sanders and AOC are agitating for an even bigger bill.
For the moment, it suits Republicans to stay relatively quiet and keep their powder dry.
But before the backstabbing, eye-gouging, and throat-slitting begin, we see peace, tranquility, and gentle good words from both sides.
“While there were areas of agreement, the President also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas which the Republican senators’ proposal does not address. He reiterated that while he is hopeful that the Rescue Plan can pass with bipartisan support, a reconciliation package is a path to achieve that end,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said after the meeting.
But she added that Biden “will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”
Schumer essentially told Republicans they could hop on board with reconciliation if they have good ideas, but that Democrats wouldn’t slash their ambitions because of GOP resistance.
Congress can pass up to three reconciliation bills per year, so the Democrats’ power is somewhat limited. And the rules on reconciliation bills are a lot stricter than other budget-related bills. There are only certain issues that can be addressed by reconciliation, otherwise it can be declared “extraneous,” which would scuttle the whole process.
Republicans could really throw a roadblock into the Democrats’ path on pandemic relief by objecting to just about every provision in it as “extraneous.” Only one senator has to object, which would force a ruling by the presiding officer — in this case, Vice President Harris. Harris doesn’t know much about the parliamentary procedure, so it would be up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide if the provision is extraneous or not.
The outcome wouldn’t be in doubt, but the time spent on these procedural matters could really gum up the works in the Senate.
This is not the hill for the GOP to die on and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knows it. Republicans will bide their time and await a better opportunity.