The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat conceded the obvious Thursday: The party’s main legislative agenda has ground to a halt, with no prospect of passing President Biden’s social spending bill or voting rights before the end of this year.
Appearing on the Yahoo News Skullduggery podcast, Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. was asked if it is now clear that the Senate will be unable to pass the massive $2 trillion 10-year spending bill, commonly known as Build Back Better, before Christmas — the deadline set by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“Correct,” he responded, attributing the roadblock in part on a poignant personal problem: The Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough — who must rule on whether items in the bill can be legitimately included as part of a budget “reconciliation” package — is battling breast cancer and has been unable to work in recent days.
But the chief “political” roadblock remains, Durbin conceded: “We do not have an agreement with Krysten Sinema [of Arizona] and Joe Manchin [of West Virginia] even to say: ‘Here are the parameters of the agreement.’” He added that it could lead to hundreds of thousands of low-income families — including in Manchin’s West Virginia — being cut off from child tax credit refund payments when the program expires at the end of the month.
As if that wasn’t bleak enough for Democrats, Durbin added: “We’re kind of stuck in the same mode when it comes to voting rights.” He was referring to the Freedom to Vote Act, which would prevent states from imposing certain restrictions on access to the ballot.
In recent days, as the prospects for Build Back Better have faded, the White House and Senate Democrats have pivoted to voting rights. But Manchin and Sinema remain opposed to altering Senate rules on the filibuster to pass the proposals by simple majority. Since Republicans in the Senate would use the filibuster to block the voting rights package, it cannot pass without filibuster reform.
Durbin said he is pushing a proposal to at least require senators who want to filibuster to do so by actually talking on the floor of the Senate — as was traditionally the custom — instead of simply filing a slip signaling their intention to do so, effectively killing whatever bill was their target. “We’ve got to do something,” Durbin said. But Sinema and Manchin remain opposed to that as well, arguing that the Senate should not try to make significant changes in the rules with Republican support for doing so.
Earlier Thursday, Durbin had told reporters that he was “stunned” that Manchin will not even go along with extending the child tax credit after it expires this month, given that there are so many families in West Virginia that have grown accustomed to depending on checks from the U.S. Treasury under the program.
But Durbin was pressed during his interview with Yahoo News on the fact that Manchin had signaled his opposition to the program as currently constructed five months ago. At the time, he sent a letter to Schumer stating that social spending in Build Back Better had to be “needs-based, with means testing guardrails,” meaning that he doesn’t want the benefits to go to all families with children, only to those with lower incomes.
Asked why the White House and Senate leaders didn’t hammer out an agreement with Manchin months ago, Durbin replied: “I don’t know who is to blame. But I can tell you it’s not for lack of effort. Everybody has been negotiating.”
What will make it any easier to pass the bill next year as Democrats are now vowing to try?
“Hope springs eternal,” he replied.