Joe Biden and the Democrats are passing Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus bill instead of negotiating with Republicans and their much smaller $618 billion counter-offer that would disqualify millions of Americans from being able to receive its benefits. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with 10 senate Republicans about their proposal for two hours on Monday, which raised the question of whether Biden was going to compromise with Republicans versus go at the COVID stimulus bill alone. The day before yesterday it was announced that Democrats are going to go with Biden’s plan, and use the budget reconciliation process on this, which will allow them to pass the plan with a mere 51 votes rather than the 60-vote supermajority usually required for bills. So go at it alone Democrats will.
Senator Todd Young of Indiana, one of the Republicans who met with Biden, had something to say about that:
“It’s not a good signal that he’s adopting a take-it-or-leave-it approach right after his president delivers an inaugural address based on unity,” he said of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to reporters on Capitol Hill.
For me, the move and the quote raise the question of what, exactly, unity is or should be at a time when Democrats control the House, Senate, and White House. What do you expect, for Democrats to not forge ahead with their goals when they have the numbers to do so? Republicans used budget reconciliation twice shortly after Trump was inaugurated and they had the majority, to pass tax cuts for the wealthy and to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And $1.9 trillion was almost the exact amount that they cost the national budget with their tax cuts for the wealthy. They weren’t worried about the deficit then. But they are with the COVID stimulus bill.
This might surprise you, but I feel guilty about fighting Republicans as a knee-jerk reaction. When I heard that Joe Biden was meeting with conservatives like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins to hash this out, a big part of me wanted them to strike a deal. Not because I believe the Republicans are part-right, but simply because I want us to get along with them. I think this comes from a learned deference I have to conservatives for some strange reason, as if they’re wise in a way that Democrats are not. I like the idea of conservatives getting on board behind me, of reading this blog. And I don’t think I’m the only Democrat that feels this way. You see Democratic representatives like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema bragging about the common ground they have with Republicans. But when you look at the GOP and what they do, simply none of them share any desire to look like almost-Democrats. Mitch McConnell doesn’t try and prove that he can get down with us. He just doesn’t. Wanting to appeal to the other party seems like a strictly Democratic affliction. Is that our ticket towards unity though? And does it matter that if the Republicans were in charge, as they were a short time ago, there would be no talk of unity with the Democrats?
“I wonder if somebody needs to be the bigger man,” someone said to me, adding that not negotiating with Republicans could come back to haunt Democrats with future legislation they want to pass. These are solid points. But a robust COVID stimulus package is so needed right now, it’s wildly popular (78% of Americans support it), and the Republicans wanted to make it so that nobody earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would get a penny from the government. They call it “more targeted aid” on cable news shows. They talk about government money going to multimillionaires. But really what they were trying to do is prohibit people who are solidly in the middle class from getting any relief. Again, they didn’t have a problem giving the biggest corporations and multimillionaires relief in the form of tax cuts when they were in charge.
Here’s the snag: if you go down the list of the Democrats’ priorities and how Biden has already started to address them, they’re staunchly Democratic objectives and Democratic solutions. He’s promised to halt most deportations of undocumented immigrants during his first 100 days in office—that’s a Democrat thing. He revoked the permit for the Keystone XL—that’s a Democrat thing. And he’s trying to raise the wage to $15 an hour—another Democrat thing. What conservatives are going to get on board with any of these? Should we care?
Maybe unity and bipartisanship are two separate things. We can convene with each other and debate our differences in a civilized way, like Biden did in the Oval Office with the 10 conservative senators. Then we can each go to the House and the Senate and fight like hell to get our version of justice pushed through. A more realistic version of unity, a unity 1.0, might mean that we respect each other enough to try and hear each other. Chips fall where they may.