Joe Biden made his governing philosophy clear on inauguration day. “Unity is the path forward,” he said, “and we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail.”
And now, President Biden is meeting the first challenge to his pledge for unity—the Covid-19 relief package.
Biden and most Democrats want a $1.9 trillion bill. Ten Republican Senators, including West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to pitch a much smaller bill—$618 billion.
After a two-hour meeting, Capito was encouraged. “You could tell he was very interested in the give and take and had the background on the programs,” Capito said.
“I hope this was the first of many meetings both with Republicans and Democrats where we can have more civil discussion and not throw each other out,” Capito said on Talkline Tuesday.
It is indicative of how far our political discourse has fallen when a civil discussion is noteworthy.
Democrats and Republicans can and do disagree on what should be in the bill. Biden wants individual checks of $1400, as per a campaign pledge. Republicans countered with $1,000, with lower eligibility caps.
Biden’s proposal includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15. Republicans want that out of the bill. The two sides disagree on how much additional money should be allocated to local and state governments.
Biden and his Democratic colleagues may try to pass their bill without Republican support by using the process known as reconciliation. That would require a simple majority, rather than 60 votes to break a filibuster.
Senator Bernie Sanders, incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, believes the Democrats have the votes. However, it would be a mistake to count West Virginia’s Joe Manchin just yet.
Manchin is on record objecting to the size of the Democratic plan and the inclusion of the higher minimum wage. He also wants the direct payments to be more targeted to those in need.
“I will vote to move forward with the budget process because we must address the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis,” Manchin said in a prepared statement. “But let me be clear—and these are words I shared with President Biden—our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by this pandemic.”
So, there are clearly differences of opinion, but as Thomas Jefferson said, those do not have to be differences of principle. President Biden and members of Congress agree there needs to be more relief for the pandemic. Now they must work out the details so that a majority of both parties agree.
Washington may have forgotten, but that is what unity looks like.