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“A 50-50 SENATE SUCKS”: SENATE DEMOCRATS’ UNFIXABLE PROBLEM. It appears the Biden White House and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer have finally given up on their goal of passing the giant social spending bill, known as Build Back Better, by Christmas. Continued opposition by all 50 Republicans, plus the refusal of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to get on board, means Democrats have at most 48 votes for the bill at the moment. And you can’t remake American society with 48 votes in the Senate.
The bill is stalled for a number of reasons, including a basic conflict between the Democrats’ progressive wing and those lawmakers considered more moderate. But the biggest single reason for the party’s failure is the most obvious: Democrats do not control a majority of seats in the Senate. It is tied between Democrats and Republicans, 50-50, and Democrats can only win on their own by corralling all 50 of their votes — no room for error — and then relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie.
“That is why people in our country should know that a 50-50 Senate sucks, and we can’t get things done,” Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono said on CNN this week.
Actually, Democrats have gotten an impressive amount of things done without a true majority in the Senate. Congress passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief spending bill earlier this year — a measure that, in fact, had little to do with COVID relief — and then later passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. That is more than $3 trillion in extra spending, over and above the budget required to fund the federal government. It’s an extraordinary amount of money, and Schumer did it with just 50 Democrats in the Senate.
But Build Back Better is more divisive. It started as a $6 trillion wish list of progressive Democratic policy measures and has gradually been whittled down to somewhere around $2 trillion, or perhaps less. (The final bill hasn’t been written yet, so no one knows precisely what it would cost.) No Republicans support BBB, and Manchin and Sinema — plus, possibly, other, more discreet Democratic senators — are full of doubts. So, getting to 50 votes is, for the moment, too high a hurdle.
In the new year, it’s entirely possible Democrats will come together behind some pared-down version of the bill that leaves a lot of the party unhappy. But they cannot fix their basic problem, which is they do not control a majority of Senate seats. They can rage in frustration at centrists like Manchin, but their real problem is the lack of a true majority.
There’s only one solution for Democrats: Win more seats. If there were, say, 53 Democrats in the Senate now, the party leadership could afford to lose one or two and still pass a bill with only Democratic support. A Manchin or a Sinema would have no clout. That’s the way a majority party usually operates.
The amazing thing is that some Democrats, especially the progressives, had such high hopes to accomplish huge things — packing the Supreme Court, nationalizing the nation’s state-based voting system, vastly expanding the welfare state, killing the Senate legislative filibuster — without a Senate majority. How did they think they were going to do that with zero margin for error in the Senate? The fact is, on the topic of massive spending bills, which are dear to Democratic lawmakers’ hearts, the party has already done quite well. There’s only one way to do much more, and it can’t be done until next November: Win an actual majority in the Senate.
For a deeper dive into many of the topics covered in the Daily Memo, please listen to my podcast, The Byron York Show — available on the Ricochet Audio Network and everywhere else podcasts can be found. You can use this link to subscribe.