Is President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus and relief package about to be given a nod of approval? The House Budget Committee advanced the bill in a critical 19-16 vote as Democrats attempt to beat a crucial March 14 deadline and use budget reconciliation that would allow it to get through the split Senate without Republican support. But could a couple of Democrats serve as the roadblocks to passage? Once again, wild cards Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) hold the keys to public policy.
The Golden Age of Sinema
In early February, Sinema voted with her caucus to push ahead with the president’s deficit-financed $1.9 trillion stimulus package. However, the moderate senator revealed to Politico that she would not support a $15 federal minimum wage hike, a move that would essentially put the kibosh on a crucial progressive item in the legislation.
Sinema wants a bill that is directly related to short-term coronavirus relief. If not, she would not give it the thumbs up – and that ostensibly applies to any items on the progressives’ wish list.
“The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there,” Sinema said.
She also broke with her colleagues on the left by opposing the filibuster’s abolition and refusing to give illegal immigrants stimulus money. Instead, she wants “to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate’s work” and “uphold what is currently law,” positions that break with members of her party.
As the political news publication reports, Sinema is considered a “team player” among the Democrats, but she also “still keeps Republicans at least as close as members of her own party.” Described as somebody who listens more than talks, Sinema might take up the mantle of being the next maverick from Arizona in the U.S. Senate. That said, since the provisions of the bill contain $400 unemployment insurance through Aug. 29 and $1,400 direct payments to individuals, she could be an aye vote.
Living in a Manchin
Like his colleague from the Copper State, Manchin is opposed to a $15 federal minimum wage. Instead, according to past statements, he would be more in favor of a “responsible and reasonable” $11 hourly wage. Simultaneously, Manchin has expressed his support for the broader measures inside the president’s proposal if it has bipartisan support.
Manchin said in a Feb. 2 statement:
“The President remains hopeful that we can have bipartisan support moving forward. I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic.
“For the sake of the country, we must work together with laser focus to defeat the COVID-19 crisis, support our neighbors and communities who continue to suffer and get back to a more normal life as quickly as possible.”
He may have no other choice, though, since he is facing pressure back home. West Virginia officials have been pushing Manchin to support the COVID-19 stimulus package because it contains $350 billion in funding for state and local governments. Several media ads also have slammed him. One radio spot from No Excuses PAC claims that “Joe Manchin thinks he knows better than both our president and the Democrats,” adding that “I guess Joe just don’t know what it’s been like to live through the pandemic. We should call his office and let him know.”
As President Barack Obama learned in 2009, the Biden White House might need to be reminded that it cannot push blue-dog Democrats around. As usual, Manchin will be a must-watch key vote on Capitol Hill, allowing his name to buzz through the media landscape. Whether it is in a positive or negative light remains to be seen.
The U.S. Senate now has a couple of wild cards on both sides of the aisle. At any moment, Manchin and Sinema could side with the Republicans. At the same time, Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) could join forces with the Democrats. Is it out of principle or some good old-fashioned politicking? It is a challenge to determine integrity in a politician, reminiscent of the line in the great 1964 picture The Best Man, when Henry Fonda’s character says, “I never pass a mirror, I don’t look in it. I wonder why?”
Read more from Andrew Moran.