News & Politics

A Requiem for Reconciliation: Radicals and Moderates Sabotage the Democrats' Plans

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

If Joe Biden’s massive spending plans blow up in Congress, he will have no one to blame but himself.

That much was clear before the president took off for a jaunt to Europe to talk with the Europeans about stifling their economies and destroying their energy sectors in order to keep the world from ending…or something.

Biden gambled that hitching his presidency to the radicals’ agenda to “transform” America would lead to Democratic government for a generation — similar to the 20-year period between 1960-1980 that saw the left ascendant and America brought to its knees by inflation, unemployment, and double-digit interest rates.

But for a sizable number of less radical, even moderate Democrats in Washington, the radicals’ spending plans and efforts to “transform” America’s social compact frightened them — as it would most sane, rational lawmakers.

With polls showing Biden that the public was keen for most of the radicals’ agenda — including expanding Medicare, “free” community college, paid family leave, and a host of other spending initiatives — the president decided to go all in and take sides in the Democratic civil war.

But Biden forgot that, at its most basic, politics is a numbers game. And with razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate, there just wasn’t any room for error or miscalculation. And errors don’t get any bigger than taking sides when a circular firing squad is forming.

Just prior to his exit, stage left, to Europe, the president thought he might be able to ram through the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate passed that bill last summer, but it has languished in the House because the radicals decided to hold it hostage to the passage of the even more massive $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill.

Related: Abandon Ship! Progressive Caucus Threatens to Bail on Infrastructure Deal

Whatever possessed the Biden White House to push for a vote on a bill that was doomed to fail isn’t known. It could be that because the president had announced a “framework deal” on the BBB, he thought it sufficient to satisfy the radicals’ demand to pass the BBB bill before voting on infrastructure.

Not a chance, Mr. President. Dozens of radicals told White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain that they wouldn’t vote for the infrastructure bill without a more complete picture of what the BBB reconciliation legislation would look like.

And that bill is still taking shape. The radicals lost Medicare expansion, they lost free community college, they lost an unlimited child tax credit, and worst of all, they lost paid family leave. There are some radical members who are seriously thinking about chucking the whole bill and starting over after the election in 2022 with a new Congress or waiting until 2024 and electing a new, more radical president.

That won’t happen. And with moderates like Joe Manchin fearing a radical double-cross where there would be a vote on reconciliation but not on the bipartisan infrastructure deal, the two sides are lining up to cast their foes as the reason for the failure of both bills.

We’re not supposed to say it anymore, but this is a classic Mexican Standoff, as neither side has an advantage and there’s no real hope for an overall victory. Biden apparently made a direct appeal to the radicals before he left for Europe, begging them to strengthen his hand and give him a victory on the infrastructure bill. That they refused is significant. The radicals have lost faith in Biden and don’t care if he sinks in the polls.

The radicals see what Biden is leaving on the cutting room floor with the BBB. They don’t want to give Biden a victory at their expense — a victory that would only benefit the moderates in their eyes. The moderates see the passage of BBB as a suicide pact no matter how much is excised from the final bill.

This is why there is still a strong chance that both bills end up in the congressional dustbin. Radicals would rather fall on their sword than accept a watered-down BBB bill, while moderates won’t budge on their demand that Congress vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill first in order to prevent radical defections from torpedoing the bill.

If Biden’s approval ratings were still at or near 60 percent, there’d be a chance to get both bills through Congress. But Biden’s numbers have tumbled to the low 40s and few Democrats are going to throw a lifeline to a drowning president.