After a year of constant drama, high anxiety, shifting deadlines, intraparty finger-pointing, lowered expectations, and serial negotiations with two Democratic senators who have big demands, the Democratic-controlled Senate announced plans to hang it up for the year, perhaps with some final votes on executive- and judicial-branch nominations if Republicans allow them.
A week that began with speculation over which of two crucial, can’t-wait Biden initiatives — the Build Back Better budget-reconciliation bill and another run at the wall of Republican obstruction against voting-rights legislation — would get the most urgent attention is ending with no real progress on either front. So senators are going home for the holidays with vague plans to pick up where they left off in the new year. President Biden himself acknowledged he was at loggerheads with Senator Joe Manchin over the structure and composition of BBB. And despite some talk of progress on filibuster reforms that Manchin might accept, it’s unclear whether anything is really happening on the voting-rights front and, if so, whether Senator Kyrsten Sinema would go along.
As a final lump of coal in the Christmas stockings of Democratic senators, the Senate parliamentarian rejected a third bid to get language into BBB providing relief to certain segments of undocumented immigrants. The parliamentarian is continuing discussions with senators of both parties on the permissibility of various provisions under Senate rules governing germaneness in budget legislation. Any further complications could delay BBB negotiations even further. And if and when the Senate wraps up, the House will have to approve the final product.
It’s hard to tell what sort of reception Democratic senators will face at home during the holidays from frustrated constituents and advocates who have been hearing promises of imminent success on key legislative goals for months. Perhaps the Omicron variant will make the sort of feverish Beltway speculation that has accompanied every twist and turn in congressional development seem petty by comparison.
What we do know is that the January 6 anniversary is bound to refocus attention on voting rights and the Republican Party’s growing acceptance of election conspiracy theories that treat voting by minorities as suspect. And we also know Biden will need to deliver a State of the Union Address early next year, during which Democrats hope to hear a clarion call for action before midterm campaign activity takes over politics entirely.
It’s not looking like a happy New Year for the Donkey Party, but maybe its members can start fresh when the calendar turns.