During his first year in office, President Barack Obama enjoyed a “super majority” of Congress: in both chambers of Congress, the spheres of power were large enough to pass agenda items without Republican support.
When Republican Scott Brown won a special election to fill the seat of the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, the Senate Democrat vote dropped to 59, forcing the Obama administration to base the process for the Affordable Care Act on “reconciliation” . This enables bills to be passed with a simple majority.
The reconciliation, once reserved for purely financial matters, allowed Obama to pass his landmark health legislation without a single Republican vote – but it marked the beginning of a long period of legislative deadlock, government shutdown, and those created by the Republicans Tax cliffs that would frustrate the US for the rest of his two terms in office.
As president, Joe Biden is now trying to secure his first legislative victory in the $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief plan In the same vein, senior Republican strategists, advisers, and lawmakers suggest that Biden runs the risk of poisoning the well and jeopardizing future initiatives such as infrastructure, immigration, and health care.
“Once you pull the trigger for reconciliation, that sets the tone for the next two years before halftime,” said Eric Cantor, former Republican whip who worked with then-Vice President Biden during the ACA transition . “They will do that and then they will be sorry.”
The possibility does not mind the White House, which argues that the American bailout plan will have widespread popularity with the general public – including Republican voters – as the country enters the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented public health crisis, which has taken up more than half a million Americans live.
“Trying to apply policy lessons from the past to the current situation is a mistake,” Anita Dunn, Biden’s senior advisor, told CNBC. “It’s just not analog. The country has never been through that.”
Former Obama administration officials said their relationship with the leaders of GOP Congress was strained from the start. Republicans vowed to oppose Obama’s entire political agenda and even turned down invitations to the first White House state dinner in November 2009.
“The idea that something happened a few months later to harm the relationship is a fantasy,” said Phil Schiliro, Obama’s chief legislative affairs officer for the first two years of administration.
Several current and former Republican advisors suggest that discussions of the US $ 800 billion recovery and reinvestment law initially worsened the relationship.
Obama asked for ideas for the package at a non-partisan, bicameral meeting in January 2009, but then referred it to spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, property manager David Obey, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who enjoyed a super-majoring in Congress to create a package of actions popular with their constituents.
“They stepped on the gas and followed their suggestions,” said a GOP advisor, who asked for anonymity to discuss private consultations. The price has dropped 10% between the House and the Senate Biden secured three Republican votes. But by and large, “Republicans voted no and found there was no [political] Price to pay for it. ”
A few months later, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner would visit Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell to discuss the early prospects for financial reform that would eventually become the Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act on Wall Street, said McConnell to Geithner: she, “according to Obama’s memoir,” is “a promised land”.
In the meantime, in 2010, Republicans netted seven seats in the Senate and 63 seats in the House of Representatives, overturning the majority of the largest party misalignment in six decades. A decade later, White House officials suggest that during the pandemic, Republicans are at greater political risk of being labeled obstructionists and withholding money from their constituents’ pockets.
“It is also their choice to use reconciliation, if not more,” a senior Biden government official told CNBC, asking for anonymity for not having the power to discuss the White House approach and accusing Republicans of not to support the bill.
Of course, Republicans have used reconciliation even if it fits their agenda. On January 3, 2017, the very first day of the Congressional session, then-Chairman of the Budgets Committee, Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Unveiled a blueprint that would serve as the vehicle for Trump’s two-times unsuccessful attempt to pick up Obamacare. Later that year, the Trump administration would use the 50-vote threshold to pass its tax cuts and jobs bill.
“The truth is that both sides are using the reconciliation to pass very hard-to-pass bills in the first year,” says Derek Kan, a McConnell adviser during the financial crisis who later became Trump’s assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget. “And it often leads to stressful relationships for the remainder of the term.”
In recent public speeches in support of the petition for the US bailout – more than twice the size of the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package – Biden asked the audience a question: “What would you have cut me?”
It’s a rhetorical question, but several Republicans have responded to in-kind contributions on social media: cuts in foreign aid, money for state and local governments, funding for arts and humanities programs, and unrelated infrastructure projects. None of these changes have yet been adopted. And the warnings from across the aisle continue, including from some on-site at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. this week.
“The White House seems determined to do this with only Democratic votes,” said Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, after meeting with Biden to discuss supply chains. “I think it’s a mistake, but they want to try and it’s really up to them.”