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Pandemic aid strengthens Biden, shows potential path for his congressional agenda

Producing it was a torturous, time-consuming affair that did nothing to improve Congress’s reputation for dysfunction. But by the time the House and Senate agreed on the terms of a pandemic aid package, they had succeeded in showing the rise of moderates as a new force in a divided Senate and in validate President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s belief that it is still possible to do business on Capitol Hill.

With Americans and businesses struggling, the new president has been a major beneficiary of the $ 900 billion pandemic stimulus package that Congress hesitantly finally issued on Sunday, which will give him some breathing space when ‘he will enter the White House next month. Rather than facing an immediate and urgent need to act on an emergency economic assistance program, Mr Biden and his team can instead take a moment to try to shape a more ambitious recovery agenda and begin to s ‘tackle other problems.

“President-elect Biden is going to have a healthier economy,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and one of the main players in the push to separate the centrists in the Senate and the House that led to the compromise. “This is a significant financial injection into the economy at a critical time.”

The group of moderates played a pivotal role in the outcome, pushing Senate and House leaders from both parties into direct personal negotiations they had avoided for months. If the leaders did not move forward, they risked losing control of the legislation as the compromise forged by the centrists gathered momentum among members of both parties. It was a possibility that Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Majority Leader, was eager to avoid in the interests of keeping his grip on the Senate.

“I’m glad we forced the problem,” said Senator Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine who, along with Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat from West Virginia, led a months-long effort to breaking the deadlock of pandemic aid even as the virus has demanded a growing economic and health toll of the country.

Given the thin partisan divisions that will exist in the Senate and House next year, the approach could provide a roadmap for the Biden administration if it hopes to break the paralysis of Congress, especially in the Senate, and pass a additional legislation. Mr Biden said another economic relief plan would be a top priority.

“I think this will be the only way we are going to accomplish the president-elect’s agenda over the next two years,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey and leader of the 50-member Biparty Caucus for Problem Solving . helped forge the compromise. “In the long run, that’s the way to govern.”

But the extremely difficult time Congress has had to come to an agreement on pandemic legislation has again shown the difficulty of the task Mr Biden faces. Almost every influential member of the House and Senate agreed that the relief was sorely needed, but it was in part hampered by last-minute Republican attempts to undermine Mr Biden’s future authority. Some Republicans are already suggesting that the latest package should survive the country for an extended period, with no additional relief needed for some time.

Mr Biden on Sunday applauded lawmakers’ willingness to “cross the aisle” and called the effort “a model for the hard work ahead for our nation.” He was also not an idle spectator in the negotiations.

With Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate nowhere near how much they were prepared to accept in new pandemic spending, Mr Biden on Dec. 2 lent his support to the $ 900 billion plan being pushed. by the centrist group. The total was less than half of the $ 2 trillion that President Nancy Pelosi and Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer of New York had insisted on.

Mr. Biden’s move was not without risks. If that had not affected the discussions, the president-elect risked appearing powerless to move Congress until he was sworn in. But members of both parties said his intervention was constructive and gave Democrats the confidence to reverse their demands.

“It helped the Democrats a lot because it told them he didn’t want a deteriorated economy and more severe unemployment and a lack of money for vaccines when he took office,” Ms Collins said.

Deep disagreements over spending levels had been a drag since the spring, when Mr McConnell backed down from another round of pandemic relief, saying he wanted to take a break and see how the over 2.8 trillions of dollars already allocated were being used. Democrats, on the other hand, were pushing for a sweeping $ 3.4 trillion measure that would never pass through the Senate, which included up to $ 1 trillion in relief for state and local governments that Mr. McConnell brought forward. qualified as non-starter. Then the bailout was caught up by the election, and any chance of movement faded even as the crisis persisted and the economic situation of millions of people worsened.

The election ended, the centrists renewed their efforts; eight of them met at the home of Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski on Capitol Hill on Nov. 17 to exchange ideas and chart a strategy. Unlike other such efforts, participants decided to put ideas that had been debated in what had been described as difficult negotiations into legislative language – not just a set of principles or talking points. This gave weight to their proposal and negotiators said it would serve as a model for the future.

“We didn’t just give them a memo with concepts,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat who participated in the talks despite his leadership role. “We gave them a real bill.”

The proposal provided concrete evidence of an alternative to the entrenched positions of the leaders of both parties, with substantial bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Ms Murkowski said the legislation was never intended to be a comprehensive solution, but rather was a “lifeline” to help Americans hit hardest through a crisis that Mr McConnell on Saturday recognized as a “national crisis. with five alarms ”.

“We have presented this dossier of several hundred pages to the public, to the administration, to the leaders”, declared Ms. Murkowski. “We basically said, ‘Here’s a gift. Take it.'”

Mr. McConnell was not so eager to unwrap the gift. Bipartisan bargaining groups, often known as gangs on Capitol Hill, can be seen as a threat to leadership. Much to the dismay of the negotiators, the majority leader quickly rejected the compromise legislation. But after months of delegating negotiations with the Democrats to the Trump administration, Mr McConnell got personally involved and began talks with Ms Pelosi, Mr Schumer and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader of the United States. Bedroom.

While the moderates may have lost “control of the ball” of the law, as Ms. Murkowski put it, they believed their work provided the framework for the end result. Mr Schumer credited them with “unlocking” the stalled talks.

“I think we’ve broken the block,” Mr. Warner said.

Those who took part in the negotiations saw their efforts as a good example of what can happen when the White House and Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill decide they want to compromise rather than swap accusations about who is responsible for dead end. Members of the centrist group said they have been approached by many other lawmakers interested in participating in the next round of talks.

But pursuing such compromises requires accepting significant political risks, such as challenging party leaders, breaking up with colleagues, and being willing to settle for something less than some in your party would prefer.

“There is nothing wrong with working together and getting 80% of what you want instead of insisting on 100%,” said Gottheimer. “It’s about actually governing. It’s a different model. It’s not the one that gets you clicks, but that’s how you get an invoice. “

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