Gridlock City: Voting rights rejected, Biden spending bill still stuck

Does Biden want Trump aides jailed?

MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz discusses President Biden’s stance on DOJ prosecutions of former Trump officials

It is one of the Hill’s favorite Kabuki dances: bring up a bill that everyone knows will go down in flames.

The supporters and the opponents get to posture, the journalists provide analyses that could have been penned in advance, everyone moves on — and nothing changes.

That, in fact, could describe most of what’s happening in the swampy capital these days. A whole lot of sound and fury followed by perpetual paralysis.

The familiar script played out Wednesday when Senate Democrats tried for a second time to pass a voting rights bill, not a single Republican voted for it, and it was blocked from getting to the floor.

The only difference this time was that this was a scaled-down measure, revised to meet Joe Manchin’s objections, with several far-reaching provisions tossed out. Manchin had asked for months to try to sell this incarnation to the GOP. But with Mitch McConnell’s troops solidly against it, the measure didn’t come close to the 60-vote margin needed to defeat a potential filibuster.

 Since Manchin refuses to carve out an exemption for the filibuster, this amounts to the final nail in the coffin.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks at a news conference outside his office on Capitol Hill, Oct. 6, 2021. Manchin spoke on the debt limit and the infrastructure bill.
(Getty Images)

Democrats decried an assault on democracy, Republicans decried political overreach by Biden’s party, the media decried Manchin, and the rest of us were left crying about Washington’s inability to get much of anything done.

Meaningless words

At the Martin Luther King Memorial on Thursday, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered impassioned speeches about the need for voting rights, with the president vowing to “keep the pressure up.” But didn’t the timing just underscore their political failure?

Biden segued into a pitch for the vaguely named Build Back Better bill. I have to laugh when I see the breathless reports on the endless negotiations over what was a $3.5 trillion measure and now will wind up closer to $1.5 trillion, if it passes at all. 

The Democrats are going to agree on a framework! The Democrats are going to hammer out a blueprint! When you see those words, they’re essentially meaningless. So are the artificial deadlines they keep setting and blowing through. Now Nancy Pelosi wants a House vote on Oct. 31, ensuring that Republicans will call it a nasty Halloween surprise.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks before signing a House continuing resolution to keep funding the government, Sept. 30, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(Associated Press)

The long delay has fueled Biden’s slide in the polls and made it look like he doesn’t even have clout with his party’s warring progressive and moderate wings. Even many allies are dispirited.

CNN’s Don Lemon says Biden and his party are “not selling their agenda. … Democrats, get your butt in gear and get passionate about saving this damn country. You’re not doing it. You’re weak.”

The Washington Post reports that after months of negotiations, “Biden is doing something new: getting specific and plunging into details, telling lawmakers exactly what he thinks needs to go into the package that could define his presidency.”

What took him so long?

Which raises the question: What took him so long? Biden has been acting like the 101st senator, patiently hearing everyone out and letting them vent. There are times when a president has to knock heads.

President Joe Biden, with first lady Jill Biden, speaks during a visit at Brookland Middle School in northeast Washington, Sept. 10, 2021. (Associated Press)

I assume the Democrats will eventually pass some kind of bill, given that failure would amount to a mass suicide pact. But the marketing has been so bungled that this may not be viewed as a victory. As Biden indicates he’ll toss out free community college in favor of free prekindergarten, along with a clean electricity program opposed by Manchin, the media focus is on what’s not in the bill. 

Even if the Democrats spend an eye-popping $2 trillion on social and climate programs (and another trillion on infrastructure), that will be depicted as a retreat from the always unrealistic $3.5 trillion. And raising taxes on the wealthy, a Biden campaign pledge, may also go out the window.

Even when things eventually happen in Washington, they move in excruciatingly slow motion. The White House made a big deal this week about how it will roll out vaccines for kids 5 to 11, but the federal health agencies are weeks away from approval. And while the Food and Drug Administration has finally OK’d booster shots, the conflicting messaging has everyone confused about who will be eligible and when.

Quote of the day: the FDA’s Peter Marks telling the New York Times, “Although it is not simple, it’s not utterly hopelessly complex.”

Actually, it is — like most of what passes for government these days.

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