November 1, 2021

LibertyLimited Government

The Rarity of Bipartisan Work

By: Lydia Switzer

A 50/50 party split in the US Senate can mean many things; negotiating, coalition-building, and above all stalemate. Such high stakes means that neither party budges over key pieces of legislation. And polarization is at its most poignant. For the last several months, it has meant intense pressure on Democrats as President Biden’s popularity dwindles and the progressive agenda hinges on the votes of two moderate senators.

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have both indicated their opposition to the exorbitant price tag on the spending bill containing core tenets of Biden’s social and economic plan. This bill carried the estimated cost of $3.5 trillion just weeks ago, and both Manchin and Sinema would not attach their names to that kind of spending. No Republicans support the bill, leaving Democrats two votes short from victory in the Senate.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to intense pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic party for those two senators to conform to the rest of the party; when they would not cave, Biden was forced to begin making concessions in order to lower the price tag of the bill. Senators Manchin and Sinema have become the de facto villains within the Democratic party, accused of being motivated by special interests and unwilling to see past their greed in order to help the suffering.

One CNN interview on October 19th is especially revealing of the progressive attitude towards moderates like Sinema and Manchin. US House Representatives Cori Bush (D-MO) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) spoke with New Day cohost John Berman about Biden’s suggestion of around $1.5 trillion instead of $3.5 trillion for the bill, and they did not hesitate to pin the blame for suffering in their district squarely upon Senator Manchin. 

First, note the framing: “We cannot cut resources from black women, from black people, from the Latino community, from the indigenous community, from our seniors. I hate that we continue to cut resources to our most vulnerable communities while continuing to respond to special interests and what they want us to do in Congress,” said Bowman.

Bush added later, “The expectation is we will give you crumbs and expect you to be happy. I didn’t come to Congress to sit back and accept those crumbs. Give my folks the meal. And that is why we are here, to push that.”

Progressives shape the dialogue around spending by calling a $1.5 trillion compromise “crumbs” and by suggesting any cut to the bill is a cut to currently nonexistent resources.

In order to properly cast opponents to the bill in their villainous role, those opponents must be directly responsible for the problems that spending is intended to fix – even at the local district level. In response to queries from Berman about compromise, Bowman said: “Ask Joe Manchin, is he okay with violence in our communities continuing, public housing falling apart, black and brown people disproportionately dying from COVID, the climate crisis? Ask him to go bigger instead of asking us to go smaller.” 

In other words, compromise is okay – as long as it’s the other person finally giving in.

Kyrsten Sinema has faced her own volley of anger and harassment over her moderate stance, including being accosted before and during a flight on a public airline. One of the protestors following her in the airport asked, “Do you want to cut climate priorities [from the spending bill]? Is that elder care that you want to cut, or is it child care?” Those words, like Congressman Bowman’s words on CNN, ring with the same clear message: vote for the entire $3.5 trillion package, or you are directly hurting people.

Therein lies the folly of negotiating over a $3.5 trillion spending bill – the largest spending bill in American history: when so much is on the line, anything that stands in the way is an obstacle to justice, to human flourishing, and to saving the world.