For Schumer and Pelosi, the Challenge of a Career With No Margin for Error

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The top two Democrats in Congress face a tough pile of legislative imperatives. With President Biden’s agenda hanging in the balance and few votes left, can he get it done?

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WASHINGTON — Last week, as all outward appearances suggested gridlock on Capitol Hill, Senator Chuck Schumer, New York’s Democrat and majority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to salvage their $3.5 trillion social policy and climate change bill. were in constant motion.

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On Tuesday, Mr. Schumer hosted breakfast for 20 Democratic senators, meeting with major Democratic moderates in the afternoon, including West Virginia’s Balking Joe Manchin III and Arizona’s Kirsten Cinema, then at weekly luncheons with the entire Democratic caucus. . .

On Wednesday, Ms Pelosi spoke with Representative Richard E. Neill, President of Ways and Means, in the midst of meetings with leaders from the UK and Australia; Greeted House Democrats when they lunched in his office; arrived at the White House to meet with President Biden and Mr. Schumer; attended a messaging meeting on the bill with Kate Bedingfield, the White House’s director of communications; rallied with the League of Conservation voters; met with factional party leaders of the House; And then went to Representative Donald S. Baer Jr.’s home in Northern Virginia for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dinner and, yes, more strategic.

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No one said it would be easy, but the plethora of tasks for Schumer and Pelosi present a particularly daunting set of challenges: a $1 trillion infrastructure bill awaiting consideration in the House on Monday, $3.5 billion. trillion social policy and climate change measures are still being stitched together, and a possible government shutdown on Friday and a potential debt crisis next month.

Without at least three votes in the Senate and in the House, the coming weeks could be the toughest test any pair of congressional leaders have faced recently or otherwise. The Affordable Care Act was a feat, with notable turning points and several near-deaths, but even with 39 Democratic defections, it still passed the House by five votes.

Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson Great Society were transformative, but Johnson was operating with a vast Democratic majority.

“When every single person has a veto, everyone realizes that they have the power to say yes or no; they can be queen or king for days,” said Tom Dashley, former South Dakota senator and the last Democratic majority leader, who presided over the Senate without a vote. But, he said, on his day, September 11, 2001, the attacks gave rise to a sense of unity and bipartisanship. “It’s much harder now,” he said. .

Or, as Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen told aides Tuesday at the Senate Democratic Caucus’s closed-door lunch: “Put on your heat shield and buckle up, because it’s about to get intense.”

There is already a lot of ruckus in the leadership of the party. Some blame Mr. Biden for blessing an effort by a bipartisan group of senators to separate traditional infrastructure from the big budget bill, thus separating it from spending programs such as the Initiative on Rural Broadband, which has been favored by reluctant moderates. could help bring it together.


Senate leaders want Ms Pelosi not to let her committee leaders draft pieces of the bill on their own, as a measure put together later this week is likely to cost more than $3.5 trillion And create expectations that have to be dashed.

House Democrats are largely in the dark about the Senate’s plans, as Mr Schumer is writing his version behind closed doors.

And some of Ms Pelosi’s problems are arguably her own making. When a small group of centrist Democrats threatened to vote against the budget blueprint needed to advance the social policy and climate change bill without a promise of a quick vote on the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate, the speaker largely Committed to vote. On the infrastructure measure till Monday.

Ms Pelosi’s much larger caucus of liberal Democrats has said they will not vote on that legislation until Congress advances their priority, climate change and social policy measure.

Now, Monday is near her, and the big bill is nowhere close to being ready, so Ms Pelosi tried to at least make an appearance of progress in hopes of securing a liberal vote for the infrastructure bill. That meant a largely meaningless announcement on Thursday that an agreement had been reached on a “framework” for paying the big bill, and a rare Saturday session of the House Budget Committee to formally draft it. 2,465-page version of the bill Which has no chance of passing – and also little chance for a vote in the full house.

In all of this, Republicans see pride as bordering on authoritarianism. By not involving the opposition party on a bill of such vast ambition, Republicans say Democratic leaders have guaranteed its eventual downfall.

“This is a transformation of America, becoming a socialist, European-type country,” Republican leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, said on “Fox & Friends” this month. “They’re going to have the government decide almost everything in your life.”

Still, at least for now, Democrats are showing confidence that Schumer and Pelosi could become a feat of legislative legend.

Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the supporting speaker, acknowledged that the set of obstacles facing Ms Pelosi were extraordinary, but the challenges Democrats were trying to tackle were unprecedented: the worst pandemic and public health crisis in a century. Climate change manifesting itself in reality record storms, floods, wildfires and heat waves, and a racial count following the killing of George Floyd that has underscored huge inequalities in society.

“She approaches this with a calmness of purpose and confidence in the Democratic caucus,” Ms Clarke said of the speaker. “It is an incredible gift to have him lead in this moment of crisis and opportunity for the country.”

The two leaders are in constant touch with their members Mr. Schumer on their old flip phones, with Ms. Pelosi dashing from meeting to meeting. On Friday morning, she called on her top four lieutenants and leaders of more than a dozen committees that have pieces of the bill. As staff members handed out notes and calls continued to echo, she went around the room and pointed out issues that still needed to be resolved to each committee leader.

She then met with Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and other Democratic moderates for more than an hour, before she and Mr. Schumer joined a call with the president.

Ms Pelosi has been in difficult situations before. She had to endure enough anti-abortion Democrats to support the House’s version of the Affordable Care Act without losing the Liberals, who were already smart on the Senate’s boycott of a new government-run plan, or “public option,” Private insurance that could compete in Bill’s insurance market.

Then Senate Democratic leaders suddenly lost their filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority, after Scott Brown, a Republican, Edward M. Washington surprised Washington by winning a special election in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Kennedy’s death. Ms Pelosi had to persuade House Democrats to swallow their pride, forget months of painstaking negotiations and pass the Senate’s version of the Affordable Care Act as the House-Senate agreement that would be blocked by Republicans.

“The Affordable Care Act was a huge challenge,” said Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was in the lead at the time. “I mean, passing comprehensive health care reform and completely changing the health care delivery system in this country? Yes, I would say that was comparable to the current effort”.

The social policy and climate change bill doesn’t serve an entirely new government like a health law, but within the scope of its ambitions, it may be even more difficult to pull off. It will expand unprecedented income support programs, such as the child tax credit passed this year, make preschoolers universal and community college nearly universal, create a federally paid family and medical leave benefit, and give the country oil, gas and gas benefits. And trying to do away with coal. To name a few of its programs, for renewable fuels and electric vehicles. And it will pay off for all that by taxing the rich and corporations, possibly in ways never before.

Given the narrow majority of Democrats, this has created any number of choke points that could sink the bill. Oregon Representative Kurt Schrader has said he wants a bill that would cost less than $1 trillion over 10 years. Several House members say they cannot accept the bill’s tough approach to drug prices.

Arizona’s Ms. Cinema has privately told allies that she will not accept any corporate or income tax rate increases. But recent discussions by Senate Democrats about adding a carbon tax to a bill to tackle climate change and help replace that revenue have come up against concerns raised by three Texas House Democrats. In a letter to Ms. Cinema and Ms. Manchin, she expressed her opposition to several provisions in the bill aimed at combating climate change, and also came out against raising the minimum tax on foreign income from US companies, where it was implemented in 2017. was determined in. .

Many New York and New Jersey Democrats have called for a bill that includes a full reinstatement of the state and local tax cuts, important to their constituents but anathema to liberals who call it cheap for the rich. North Carolina Representative Alma Adams says she will oppose the bill if it doesn’t include billions of dollars more for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. Representative Lou Correa of ​​California and Jesus Garcia of Illinois have said they are not Unless the final bill includes a “route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” a provision Senate lawmakers have already disallowed under the chamber’s strict budget rules.

Either way, Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer will have to settle those disputes – and hopefully no others lurk under the surface – before the final version of the bill goes to vote.

“It’s not surprising at all that this is going to be a turbulent moment,” Mr Van Hollen said. “The challenge is…

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