In Washington there are three kinds of victories. Moral victories, where you lose but make a point. Pyrrhic victories, where you win but suffer greatly for it. And what you might call momentum victories, where success opens the way to more success. Those, of course, are the best.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that President Biden signed on March 11 looks like a momentum victory. Polls show it’s popular with Republican voters as well as Democrats. Coming early in Biden’s term, it marks him as a doer and a force to be reckoned with. Now Biden will try to ride that momentum to passage of his next big legislative priority, Build Back Better, a vast initiative that’s likely to include funding for infrastructure, green investment, manufacturing, support for caregivers, and racial justice.
To notch another victory, though, Biden will have to change tactics. Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan with zero Republican votes by using the reconciliation procedure, which protected it against a Republican filibuster. But Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, is refusing to consider Build Back Better under reconciliation, so it will require the votes of at least 10 Republican senators—plus all 50 Democrats—to overcome a filibuster by the GOP minority.
Biden will have to be bipartisan, or at least perceived as such. For him the best outcome would be a bill that has Republican fingerprints but retains most of what Democrats want. “Great legislation that lasts the test of time is bipartisan. The Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, they’re unquestioned,” says Mark Strand, president of the nonprofit Congressional Institute. “Laws that aren’t bipartisan are immediately subject to being repealed, stripped down, the next time another party takes power.”
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