Reconciliation redux

Build Back Better is back! Well, not quite. But Punchbowl reports that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will submit a reconciliation bill to the Parliamentarian today.

The bill would allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare. On its own, the measure is popular and would give the president and Democratic leaders something to point to as an example of ways in which they are working to lower the cost of living. But Schumer and co. hope it will be more than that. If the measure passes the Byrd Rule test and the Parliamentarian deems it to be something that needs just fifty votes, Democrats plan on making drug pricing one piece of a broader package that they can pass before the midterms.

But what would be in a bigger package? The economic and political landscape has changed considerably since the height of Build Back Better negotiations last year. Inflation now looks anything but transitory and critics of the president who warned that the proposed spending was too much have been vindicated. And so even as Democrats are desperate for some kind of legislative win, the politics of a potential reconciliation bill are very tricky indeed.

The rest of the package will reportedly focus on climate and energy policy — perhaps the most pressing and politically fraught policy area in Washington at the moment — and tax reform. Democrats will have to choose between measures that satisfy the left’s calls for decisive climate action and policies that involve more government spending and higher costs for American households. Whether there exists a package that can win fifty Democratic votes is far from clear. Murkier still is the question of whether or not that package ends up being a political asset, or yet another liability, ahead of November’s midterms.

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When will White House heads start to roll?

Another day, another gossipy account of a dark mood among Democrats. This time it’s CNN’s Edward-Isaac Dovere relaying the disgruntlement of the party and the American left more generally. Biden, liberal America seems to agree, has not risen to the moment. On guns, on abortion and much else, they sense that he isn’t as angry as they are. (What they actually want to do about any of these issues, given numerous legal and political constraints, is less obvious.)

But mixed in with this general frustration are specific complaints about Biden’s top team. One member of Congress describes the White House as “rudderless, aimless and hopeless.”

Dovere writes that “two dozen leading Democratic politicians and operatives, as well as several within the West Wing, tell CNN they feel this goes deeper than questions of ideology and posture. Instead, they say, it gets to questions of basic management.” Biden’s staff don’t reply to offers of help, don’t get key appointees in place quickly enough, don’t, well, do anything especially competently.

For all the dysfunction, Biden’s team has been unusually stable, with next to no departures of senior aides. But as the Democratic frustration rises, Biden will surely start to wonder whether he can continue to rely on the close-knit group of advisors, even if they have worked with the president for years. How long until heads start to roll?

Did Warnock break election laws?

Did Georgia senator Raphael Warnock break campaign finance laws? The incumbent in one of this November’s most important races used campaign money to pay for legal expenses in a lawsuit that dates back a few years and relates to his time as a pastor. Politico has a thorough rundown of the saga suggesting this could amount to an improper use of funds. Warnock has none other than Democratic super-lawyer Marc Elias acting for him and insists that there is nothing untoward in the spending. But depending on how the FEC rules on the move, a kooky non-starter of a lawsuit that started as a nuisance for Warnock could have far larger ramifications.

What you should be reading today

Ed Zotti: Chicago is coming apart
Ben Sixsmith: The strange rush to politicize the Highland Park massacre
James Snell: Boris Johnson and the return of ‘pestminster’
James Bittle, New York Times: How one restauranteur transformed America’s energy industry
Wall Street Journal: Biden’s missing trade policy
Jonah Goldberg, the Dispatch: The huge mistake that the Jan 6 committee can avoid

Poll watch

President Biden job approval
Approve: 38.2 percent
Disapprove: 57.1 percent
Net approval: -18.9 (RCP Average)

Direction of the country
Right direction: 10 percent
Wrong direction: 87 percent (Monmouth)

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