Congressional Democrats divided over 3.5 trillion dollar bill

Charlie Keidel ’24

Each time a United States President is elected, they have (from the time they are elected to about a year and a half into their presidency) a finite amount of political capital. President Joe Biden had a plethora of ways he could attempt to spend his political capital; ultimately, the President chose to introduce two bills in furtherance of infrastructure. 

These bills fared differently. The smaller, one-trillion-dollar bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. This was somewhat expected as it helps Republicans’ potential narratives. But for the much more expensive 3.5 trillion dollar bill, the Republican Senate will not vote for it because it would not be politically savvy to support the president’s two most politicized measures not involving COVID-19. The one trillion dollar bill mostly contained “physical infrastructure”: four hundred plus billion dollars are going to our roads, public transportation, railroads, airports, and other technologies to improve our systems of transportation. This bill was also heavily lobbied, so it includes a lot of smaller government contributions spanning from banning open alcoholic beverages in cars in a myriad of states to an allotment of funding for research on wildlife crossing safety. 

The other bill introduced to Congress was a 3.5 trillion dollar social infrastructure, including 1.8 trillion dollars to working class family tax cuts and lowering the price of prescription drugs. This bill also includes 750 million dollars for education including universal preK and free community college. However, it has faced more of a struggle than the previous, smaller bill. 

Senator Joe Manchin addresses the media on February 6, 2017- Via Wikimedia Commons

There is a lot to be said about the so-called “divide” in the Democratic party currently and the headache it results in when attempting to pass major legislation. You could liken it to walking up on a tightrope; balancing the wants and needs of the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic party has and will continue to be a challenge for the President. For example, chair of the Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA.) has said that a majority of the 96 member caucus would vote down the 1.2 trillion dollar bipartisan bill in the House if the 3.5 trillion dollar package is not passed as well. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV.) has also been the persistent thorn in the side of the president’s agenda, saying that he believed the urgency for the bill was “not the same” as the American Rescue Plan, the President’s headline COVID-19 Stimulus Package, and asked the Democratic Senate and the President, “what’s the urgency we have?” 

Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal addresses budget concerns at the Capitol on May 24, 2017- Via Wikimedia Commons

These hold-ups are natural in the Senate, and the President has many times asserted his confidence in the passing of both bills through the two legislative chambers. But the Democrats (and the President) have a much more volatile party, making passing major legislation more difficult. 

President Biden cannot alienate progressives nor centrists, and in a year, he must appeal to both when voters head to the polls once again. The President has a quandary when it comes to applying pressure to the Progressive Caucus and more centrist Democrats, and unfortunately, there most likely isn’t a solution.