I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.

Will Rogers’ quote about being a Democrat is often repeated.  More true today than it has been in a while.

This country has some important problems to deal with.  I’ll let you take your choice of how you rank them.  In some cases there are local and state solutions available.  More often than not, however, those problems find their way to Washington, the one place in America that is least likely to find a solution to anything.

The nonstop fighting that has been going on for months occasionally crosses the political aisle.  Lately it has been dominated by intramural arguments among congressional Democrats.  Moderate Democrats in the Senate cobbled together a bi-partisan infrastructure bill affectionately known as BIF, which is designed to repair highways, bridges, airports, water and sewer lines and like-minded things.  The Senate bill would cost something in the neighborhood of $1,000,000,000,000; does one trillion dollars look better in words or numbers?  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 69 to 30, and that’s where it stands at the moment.

The House of Representatives isn’t on the same page.  While BIF seems to be acceptable to most Democrats, and maybe even a few Republicans, House Democrats are divided nearly in half by the so-called moderates and the so-called progressives.

The moderate Democrats want a vote on BIF like last week, or in the alternative, immediately.  Progressives say not so fast.

The holdup is because of disagreements about another big piece of legislation, the human infrastructure bill, aka Build Back Better or BBB.  BBB is intended to provide substantial funding for many social and environmental matters including additions to Medicare and Medicaid coverage, child care, climate control, free community college, etc.

BBB is not likely to attract any Republican support.  There is constant talk about Senate Democrats abolishing the filibuster process to make approval somewhat easier.  The alternative is budget reconciliation, which needs only majority vote approval in the Senate – how quaint. 

While many if not most of the program areas covered by the proposal have substantial Democratic support in both the House and the Senate, the big intramural fighting is about the size of the bill and the programs included.  The dollar range is pretty large.  The low end of support is something in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion.  The high end of spectrum is currently about $3.5 trillion although Senator Bernie Sanders says it should be $6 trillion.  President Joe Biden is talking about a $2 trillion bill.

There are at least four major complications to getting a BBB bill resolved:

  • The lower the amount of the total bill, the more programs need to be cut back or eliminated.  Getting agreement on such things is difficult or maybe impossible.
  • Some of the programs are what are considered non-starters by a least one of more Democratic members of the House and Senate, all of whom basically having veto power over any agreement that might be reached by party leadership.
  • The Senate has 50 Democrats.  The House Democratic caucus has a three vote margin.  Those are not FDR or LBJ numbers so doing anything takes some luck and magic.  Biden is savvy in the ways of the Senate but he is no magician.  Neither is Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

The current BBB debate means nothing to most people.  There is lots of public support for the programs contained in BIF and the subjects are pretty well understood.  Not so with BBB.  Words like reconciliation and filibuster get thrown around a lot and that tells most voters nothing they need to know.  They need to know what’s in it for them and maybe how much does it cost.

To give themselves any sort of fighting chance in next year’s mid-term elections Democrats need to clarify what the programs will do for people, choose the preferred programs smartly, and get to a number supportable by majorities in the House and Senate.  Many of the proposals, properly explained, draw wide support in polling.  That can only translate into votes in 2022, however, if congressional Democrats can come together to pass something and then explain what the legislation does in plain English.  And the sooner the better.

That is much harder said than done.  There is lots of not-so-subtle animosity among the members.  Sanders could not even bring himself to sign off on a statement saying that it was wrong for protesters to follow Senator Sinema into a restroom because he wanted the statement to also criticize Sinema’s policy stances too.  Come on Bernie, lighten up.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a Democrat.  I don’t enjoy highlighting the problems the party has these days but the discussion needs to be had.

For my Republican friends who are smiling at all this, please remember that in the past six years the far-right members of the so-called Freedom Caucus raised a lot of hell and drove two House Speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, out of office.  How many times did the Trump White House talk about infrastructure week?  And then there is the party’s defense of the Big Lie and the January 6th insurrection.

Where this is all heading is anybody’s guess.  BBB and BIF could all get worked out if Democrats can come to the realization that the legislation is too important to fail.  Take what you can achieve this year and then work to elect more Democrats next year for another shot at things in 2023.  At this time, unfortunately, too many Democratic members of Congress can’t get past the idea that the good should not get in the way of the perfect.  If that can’t get figured out then all of this time and discussion has been wasted.