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How the Democrats’ Big Bill finally succeeded

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The two names you’ve probably heard the most about as Democrats took a year or more to pass their big climate, healthcare and health tax bill are President Joe Biden and Senator Joe Manchin. . Now that the bill is heading to the House for final passage, it’s time to focus on the other key players who made this possible. One is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Others? The Democratic Party participants who nominated Biden and the Democrats to Congress in the first place.

As Paul Waldman of the Plum Line said, “It tells you something about Nancy Pelosi’s skill as a legislator that there’s absolutely no one in doubt that she’s going to introduce this bill, or really any bill Democrats want, even with the narrowest of majorities. It’s just taken for granted that it’s not even worth worrying about.

Pelosi has now served four terms – eight years – as president, half with a Republican president and the other half with a Democratic president and a unified party government. In those four years with a Democratic president, I can’t think of a single bill that died because the House couldn’t do its part.

And yet, especially during the current Congress, his party’s margin has been extremely thin, with the majority having to keep all but a handful of Democrats on board in order to push through whatever Republicans unanimously opposed. This is only possible because there are no more conservative Democrats in the House.

But there is always a wide range of views, from some very moderate liberals to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez team. Nor are ideological groups the only potential problem. Regional or state interests can make a vote difficult for any number of small groups. And these are politicians who all want something; keeping together 218 votes needed out of 223 Democrats (or whatever the exact number is, as they fluctuate over the course of a two-year Congress) is always difficult. But Pelosi makes it look so easy we don’t even notice.

The last three of those four Congresses have been extremely productive, including the 2019-20 Congress with a Republican-majority Senate and a Republican President. Indeed, Pelosi has twice stepped in during national crises — the 2008 financial collapse and the 2020 pandemic — and passed bills that likely hurt Democrats in that year’s election. When it comes to productive times with a unified Democratic government, Pelosi doesn’t deserve all the credit — the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and a whole host of committee chairs of the House and the Senate have all done their part. . But Pelosi is probably first on the list.

So why has it taken so long to pass major climate legislation? To some extent, that’s because it’s a difficult political challenge for any democracy, as Congressional scholar Sarah Binder points out. The problem is that politicians have short-term horizons, while the big gains from climate action are mostly about the future, and the far future at that. Crafting a bill that offered short-term benefits, in the form of subsidies to consumers and manufacturers that can be cashed in now, was key to finding something Congress could pass (see also the political scientist of the UCLA Michael Ross here).

Another reason is that for a long time the climate has not been a top priority for the Democratic Party. This is largely the result of the appointment policy. Climate as a political issue is still a relatively new issue, certainly compared to decades-old political battles such as health care. In 1992 and 2008, health care was the big unfinished agenda for mainstream liberal Democrats, and that was reflected in the battles to choose presidential candidates in those two years.

In 2020, after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, other issues may have risen to the party agenda. And political participants, including organized groups and individual activists, donors and governance professionals, increasingly saw climate legislation as one of the core tasks a unified Democratic government needed to tackle. tackle.

The same process takes place in Senate and House elections. Even members of the House and Senate trying to win Democratic nominations in traditional energy-producing states have ended up, by 2020, talking about the climate.

It was also important that climate and health care (but not voting rights) could be addressed using the conciliation procedure which allows certain bills to be passed by a simple majority and avoid being subject to Republican filibuster.

Issues that have come to light more recently, such as expanding the child tax credit, have ended up being excluded for the time being. It’s not because the Democrats opposed it. It’s just that it’s hard to do too much in a single bill, or even a single Congress. And it’s a reminder that it’s usually hard for something to become a top priority very quickly.

Pay attention to politics in primary elections. It matters as much – or probably even more – than the candidate who ends up being nominated. And also? All of this work that activists have done to push presidential candidates and congressional candidates to take stronger stances on climate really mattered.

For weekend reading, here are some of the best recent articles from political scientists:

• Sarah Bauerle Danzman at the Monkey Cage on the CHIPs Act and industrial policy.

• Heather Yates on the abortion vote in Kansas.

• Matt Grossmann discusses with Jacob Grumbach his new book on federalism and nationalized politics.

• Zack Scott and Jared McDonald on emotional appeals in the campaign trail.

• Natalie Jackson on Trump’s support and her current legal issues.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. A former political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion