Summers turn to fall

Larry Summers, that is

For the first major legislative effort of his presidency, Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, partly made up of billions in state and local aid, billions more for vaccine production and distribution, and direct checks to tens of millions of people, to honor his campaign promise. A group of Republicans countered with their own plan, suggesting he cut it down by more than two thirds. In exchange they’d support the bill and give him the 60 votes he’d need to end a filibuster by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

Then something strange happened. Biden met with the Republicans, heard them out, and said no. 

Democrats have no desire to relive the hell that was 2009. Back then, Republicans strung Democrats along, sometimes for months, only to ditch them at the last minute or, as they did with Obama’s stimulus, make it too small to do the job effectively.

If you lived through the day-to-day congressional struggle of 2009-’10, you need no reminder. But if you didn’t, I have a new piece on just how traumatic it was for Democrats, so much so that they’ve quickly decided to go alone. 

(The one exception appears to be Larry Summers. The former Obama adviser played a key role in arguing for a smaller stimulus in 2009, and is doing so again, but this time, Biden wisely kept him out of the White House, and people there, up to and including Biden, are flatly rejecting his advice.)

And so Democrats are now embarking on a complicated, multi-week parliamentary process called budget reconciliation, which is not subject to the filibuster, meaning the stimulus can be passed with a simple majority. But a lot of it will likely be tossed out by the parliamentarian, who will rule that pieces that don’t have a direct impact on the deficit have to go through regular order. 

Besides that, the chamber only gets a few bites at reconciliation through the entire first two years of Biden’s presidency, meaning the rest of Biden’s agenda will be subject to the filibuster. 

The availability of reconciliation has allowed the party to dodge the question so far of what to do about the filibuster, but that won’t last for long. Soon enough, unless Republicans have some sort of weird bipartisan epiphany, Democrats will face a choice: They can either keep the filibuster in place, or they can implement Biden’s agenda. They can’t do both.

In the last episode of Deconstructed, I talked with Rep. John Sarbanes about his legislation that would rebalance the democratic process. Without it, Democrats could soon be relegated to permanent minority status. That legislation, too, can’t be done as long as the filibuster is in place. 

Today’s episode is on the history of the filibuster and the fight to reform or abolish it. I interview Senator Jeff Merkley, a leading voice of the push against it, and Adam Jentleson, author of the terrific new book Kill Switch

During the interview, I asked Merkley about Biden’s idea of lowering the threshold of who should get the upcoming $1,400 checks from people making $75,000 per year down to $50,000. “I would advise him, if he were to ask me, that is not the place to compromise, that if you want to see us lose a Senate race in Georgia in two years, then modify the promise made — break the promise made during the Georgia runoff,” he said. “There’s a lot in that bill where you could argue a little more here or a little less there, but I think when you have made that a central point of a key election and narrowly won that election, we all, together, better deliver on that promise.”

That full story is here.