Congressional Democrats face a pretty simple choice.
They can find a way to compromise on a budget reconciliation measure, or they can walk away empty-handed.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate last month contains $1 trillion in spending. It includes:
• More than $110 billion for roads and bridges
• $66 billion for passenger and freight rail projects
• $65 billion for broadband
• $39.2 billion for public transit
• $7.5 billion for clean school buses and ferries
• $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations
And a whole lot more.
But the House says it will approve none of it if the Senate fails to pass the much larger budget reconciliation measure that includes much of President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda. Or maybe it'll approve the measure and then hang onto it, keeping the bill from being signed by the president until the reconciliation measure clears the Senate.
In its current form, the reconciliation measure totals $3.5 trillion, and moderate Democrats such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia say there’s no way they’ll support it.
The measure includes provisions authorizing Medicare to negotiate prices for the most expensive drugs, including insulin. Private insurers and employer plans could then access those lower prices. Annual price increases for established drugs would be limited, and out-of-pocket costs for seniors would be capped.
The legislation also expands Medicare to provide dental and vision benefits and cover the cost of hearing aids, and it provides health insurance to more than 2 million low-income people in GOP-led states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion established in the Affordable Care Act.
The plan also calls for making health insurance more affordable for people who buy their own policies by extending subsidies that had been provided under the president’s COVID relief bill, and it permanently funds the politically popular Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The bill also includes funding to provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, cover tuition for two years of community college, support child care for working families and increase the maximum award for Pell grants, a federal subsidy that helps low-income students pay for college.
The list goes on.
Progressives would love to fund all of it, but the fact is they don’t have the votes. Democrats have a one-vote edge in the Senate, and they’ll get exactly zero Republican support.
What Democrats need to do is figure out what it will take to get 50 votes in the Senate. Then they should take the win and move on.
Frustrated progressives are right about one thing. The voters sent them to Washington to govern. What they need to remember, though, is that governing in a democracy often involves compromise.
Now is the time for compromise.