President Biden, along with leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, started the year with the choice between two paths to govern. The first route, which I have strongly urged my party to take, is characterized with bipartisanship. Democrats carry this incredible opportunity to consolidate their power by reaching out to moderate Republicans to achieve legislative compromises at a time when Republicans are deeply fractured. This route would lead to further friction, however, with the growing progressive wing.
It is clear that Biden and Democrats have chosen the second route, which involves embracing liberal policies and using their power to push through a progressive agenda without any support from Republicans. While it may lead to legislative wins, it will do away with the promise of Biden to reach across the aisle and adds the risk of potential losses in 2022.
The decision to govern this way has now elevated Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to one of the most notable positions on Capitol Hill. Manchin played a pivotal part with the passage of the almost $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill and he, along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have been critical to balance out the progressive agenda with the party.
Indeed, Manchin and Sinema are the only two Senate Democrats who are blocking the wholesale move to the left and toward the unchecked liberal policies in the party. Though Manchin played a central role in scaling back the initial stimulus bill from Biden to make it somewhat more moderate by lowering the income threshold for additional stimulus payments as well as nixing the minimum wage increase, the final package is now still the most progressive domestic legislation enacted in modern history.
One would hardly believe the bill was proposed by a moderate president who clinched his party nomination and the White House with his promise to unite the country. But this final package is more akin to something we would have seen if Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had been elected to office. As Sam Stein had outlined in Politico last week, the influence of Sanders and progressive politics with the stimulus bill is evident, and his objective has been to move the window of discourse of what Democrats believe is tolerated, and Sanders appears to have done that.
Despite the fact that Democrats have slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, the stimulus bill embodies unconstrained progressive policies, including the direct payments to working people and ensured income for children. Further, Biden and Democrats are now planning for a significant tax hike on the rich to help pay for a new economic program.
Biden had the chance to reach out to moderate Senate Republicans, who were drafting a scaled back coronavirus relief bill earlier this year. Instead, Biden took the more feasible but more costly route of passing the massive $2 trillion bill with the reconciliation process. The final legislation includes several provisions that are both inflationary and untargeted.
Now there are talks that Senate Democrats could weaken or eliminate the filibuster, a mistake I strongly hope my party will not make. It is important to maintain the filibuster so there is a level of bipartisanship built into the system. Even if Senate Democrats can somehow get their entire coalition on board with deploying the nuclear option, doing so would continue the dangerous precedent for the Senate, where the party in control uses that measure in the narrowly divided chamber to dismiss the opposition party, effectively shutting the door to key legislative compromises.
It is clear that the left has taken over the Democrats. If the administration continues working to appease the progressive wing, while bipartisanship falls, then it could set Democrats up for some losses in 2022.
Douglas Schoen is a political consultant who has served as adviser to Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”