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Biden, Congress Face Legislation Grind 06/21 06:07

   Until recently, the act of governing seemed to happen at the speed of 
presidential tweets. But now President Joe Biden is settling in for what 
appears will be a long, summer slog of legislating.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Until recently, the act of governing seemed to happen at 
the speed of presidential tweets. But now President Joe Biden is settling in 
for what appears will be a long, summer slog of legislating.

   Congress is hunkered down, the House and Senate grinding through a 
monthslong stretch, lawmakers trying to draft Biden's big infrastructure ideas 
into bills that could actually be signed into law. Perhaps not since the 
drafting of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago has Washington tried 
a legislative lift as heavy.

   It's going to take a while.

   "Passing legislation is not a made-for-TV movie," said Phil Schiliro, a 
former legislative affairs director at the Obama White House and veteran of 
congressional battles, including over the health care law.

   Biden appears comfortable in this space, embarked on an agenda in Congress 
that's rooted in his top legislative priority -- the $4 trillion "build back 
better" investments now being shaped as his American Jobs and American Families 
plans.

   To land the bills on his desk, the president is relying on an old-school 
legislative process that can feel out of step with today's fast-moving 
political cycles and hopes for quick payoffs. Democrats are anxious it is 
taking too long and he is wasting precious time negotiating with Republicans, 
but Biden seems to like the laborious art of legislating.

   On Monday, Biden is expected to launch another week of engagement with 
members of both parties, and the White House is likely at some point to hear 
from a bipartisan group of senators working on a scaled-back $1 trillion plan 
as an alternative.

   At the same time, the administration is pushing ahead with the president's 
own, more sweeping proposals being developed in the House and Senate budget 
committees, tallying as much as $6 trillion, under a process that could enable 
Democrats to pass it on their own. Initial votes are being eyed for late July.

   "This is how negotiations work," White House deputy press secretary Andrew 
Bates said during last week's twists and turns of the infrastructure 
negotiations.

   "We continue to work closely with Democrats of all views -- as well as 
Republicans -- on the path forward. There are many possible avenues to getting 
this done, and we are optimistic about our chances," Bates said.

   During his administration, President Donald Trump had the full sweep of 
Republican control of the House and Senate for the first two years of his 
tenure, but the limits of legislating quickly became clear.

   Trump tended to govern by tweet, rather than the more traditional 
legislative process, bursting out with policy ideas and official administrative 
positions often at odds with his party in Congress.

   The Trump-era results were mixed, and Republicans were unable to clinch 
their top legislative priority, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care 
Act. But they went on to secure a sizable achievement when Trump signed the GOP 
tax cuts into law at the end of 2017.

   Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is a leader of today's bipartisan 
negotiations, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump, too, proposed 
an infrastructure package. If Biden sticks with the bipartisan talks he could 
not only fulfill a campaign promise but "keep his pledge of doing things across 
the aisle and getting something done," Portman said.

   "Everybody wants to do infrastructure," he said.

   Even as Biden reaches for a bipartisan deal, skeptical Democrats are wary of 
a repeat of 2009, when Barack Obama was president and they spent months 
negotiating the details of the Affordable Care Act with Republicans. Eventually 
Democrats passed the package that became known as "Obamacare" on their own.

   Lawmakers also have been energized by the speed at which Congress was able 
to approve COVID-19 relief -- the massive CARES Act at the start of the 
pandemic in 2020 and more recently Biden's American Rescue Plan in February. 
They are eager for swift action on these next proposals.

   Biden's strategy this time is a two-part approach. He is trying to secure a 
bipartisan deal on roads, bridges and broadband -- the more traditional types 
of infrastructure -- while also pursuing the broader Democratic priorities 
package.

   The budget committees are preparing some $6 trillion in spending on what the 
White House calls the human infrastructure of Americans' lives with child care 
centers, community colleges and elder care in Biden's plans, adding in 
Democrats' other long-running ideas. Among them, expanding Medicare for seniors 
with vision, hearing and dental services, and lowering the eligibility age to 
60.

   Regardless of whether Biden succeeds or fails in the on-again-off-again 
talks with Republicans, Democrats will press on with their own massive package, 
the president at least having showed he tried.

   "There are two kinds of negotiation," said Democrat Barney Frank, the former 
congressman and committee chairman from Massachusetts who was central to many 
Obama-era legislative battles. "One that will be successful and give you a good 
bill," he said, and the other that will be unsuccessful, but will at least 
"take away any stigma of being partisan."

   Congress is eyeing an end-of-summer deadline to launch the budget 
reconciliation process, which would allow passage of the bills on majority 
votes, notably in the now split 50-50 Senate where 60 votes are typically 
required to advance legislation.

   After that, the House and Senate would prepare the actual packages for votes 
in fall.

   As the process drags on, it's a reminder that it took more than a year in 
Congress to pass Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in spring 2010.

   "Tweets are so easy," Schiliro said. "Legislating is different from that, so 
to develop good legislation takes time."

 
 
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