Schumer Should Up The Pressure On Manchin And Sinema

[ Posted Monday, November 29th, 2021 – 16:28 UTC ]

December is going to be one of those rare months when Congress actually has to get some things done. These days, nothing big happens in Congress without either a hard deadline or an overwhelming sense of political urgency to get something done fast. Both of these will hopefully be in play next month, on different pieces of legislation. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could do one big thing to increase the urgency on one particular bill.

But first let's take a look at all the other things Congress needs to get done. There are three looming deadlines, although only two of them are explicit. The first deadline arrives this Friday, when the government officially runs out of money again. This is due to Congress once again not doing their constitutional duty to pass a yearly budget on time. The federal fiscal year began at the start of October, yet the federal government is still essentially operating on last year's budget. This temporary situation is the result of Congress kicking the can down the road by passing a continuing resolution ("let's just spend money the same exact way we did last year while we try to figure out this year's budget"). This will happen once again, this week (hopefully, at any rate). There won't be a vote on this year's budget, there will instead be another punting of the budgetary can. The only question is how far they'll kick it this time around ("mid-January" seems to be winning out at the moment, but that could always change). But the continuing resolution which will do so has to be in place by this Friday, so expect a lot of this week to be consumed with all the parliamentary moves that will have to happen to pass it.

Next on the calendar is raising the debt ceiling, which Janet Yellen is saying needs to happen by the 15th of the month. This is necessary so the United States government doesn't default on its debt. The entire exercise, as always, is one of kicking the debt can down the road, and again the big question will be how far away on the calendar they'll kick it. Will it wind up being "beyond the midterm elections," or some point before then? The other question is whether this happens in the Senate with 10 Republican votes or whether Mitch McConnell follows through on his threat to force Schumer to use the budget reconciliation process to pass it with only Democratic votes. This is a distinction without a difference to those outside of Washington, but the mini-drama will take up lots of time and media attention nevertheless.

The third issue isn't as pressing as the first two, since there is no actual deadline attached, but passing the military appropriations bill may happen before the end of the year even without an actual calendar date looming. Both sides will try to add in a few pet projects, since the Pentagon budget is definitely seen as a "must-pass" bill, but chances are still pretty good that something will be agreed to before the winter break. Doing so is seen as a source of pride for Congress, a bill which used to regularly pass with lots of bipartisan support, and it has the additional benefit of signalling to the world that our legislative process can still function on such a critical issue as national security. So even without an explicit deadline, there is enough of a sense of urgency that the Pentagon budget will likely pass in one form or another.

Then there is the Build Back Better bill that the House has already passed. This one is purely partisan, since not a single Republican in Congress has shown the slightest interest in supporting it. As it has been for almost two-thirds of this year, this whole thing boils down to getting two senators (Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) to agree to vote for it. So far, neither one has. Manchin in particular hasn't even expressed any sort of urgency about finishing the negotiations.

For the entire rest of the Democratic Party, there is indeed a sense of urgency behind passing the third of President Joe Biden's three-legged stool of an economic agenda. The party knows that this will be the platform they will be running on in next year's midterm campaigns. It is seen as absolutely critical to the party's chances of any success in 2022.

This urgency needs to be conveyed to Manchin and Sinema in no uncertain terms. Chuck Schumer should make a very simple announcement in order to crank up the pressure on them. He should release a statement saying that all the upcoming Senate vacation days will be cancelled until this bill passes, with the exception of Christmas Day and New Year's Day. All other days, the Senate will be in Washington hard at work -- until the bill passes. Once the bill does pass, everyone can go home. If the bill doesn't pass by the new year, then the Senate will be in session until then, period.

This puts a unique sort of pressure on the two holdouts, because it will come from within. The other 98 senators will make their frustration known to Manchin and Sinema, from both sides of the aisle. It doesn't really matter your political ideology, everyone loves a nice long vacation, right? That vacation will not happen until both Manchin and Sinema finalize some sort of deal. If too many Republicans leave on vacation anyway, then the bill might even be able to pass without the two holdout Democratic votes (it could pass 48-47 if five Republicans went home, for instance, even with Manchin and Sinema voting against it).

Big legislative bills only really happen in Washington anymore with either a hard calendar deadline or with an overwhelming sense of political urgency. All the COVID relief bills passed because members of Congress (of both parties) were afraid their constituents would be politically angry at them if they didn't act (to cite a recent example). This sense of urgency can appear quickly or it can build up over a long period, but when both the media and the public focus a large portion of their attention on an issue, often times Congress is forced to act whether they really want to or not. This is not always the case, but it can indeed work wonders.

Other Democrats have been trying to instill this sense of urgency in Manchin and Sinema for over half a year now, and it still hasn't borne much fruit (obviously). So Chuck Schumer should now try a different tactic. Let's see how the two of them stand up to peer pressure from their fellow vacation-loving senators -- maybe that is what is needed right now to light a fire under the two of them. It's certainly worth a try, since nothing else has worked yet.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “Schumer Should Up The Pressure On Manchin And Sinema”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Withholding Senate vacation time may be the key to getting Manchinema off their wallets, er, butts?

    I don't think Shumer has the huevos. Just like Democrats in the House could have the Sargent at Arms go arrest Steve Bannon for ignoring their subpoenas but instead they pass the buck to the DOJ.

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Wow. Weigantia must be sorely tired of the political crap that our American Ownership Class (in BOTH Parties, Michale and Don Harris) keeps throwing up against "a more perfect Union." As much a politics junkie that I am, I am also pretty "burnt" by the last 5 years of insanity.

  3. [3] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    When was the last time a Majority Leader held the Senate in session right through major vacation or recess periods?

    In other words, how time-honored and tradition-hallowed is this suggestion of yours?

    If it is a novel solution to the problem of disciplining senators to get off the pot, it seems unlikely to me that Sen. Schumer will try it. He doesn't like novel procedures in the greatest legislature on Earth, it seems to me.

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