Compromise in the United States Congress

Can We Compromise As A Nation? Or Is It Too Late?

On January 20th of 2021, after a tumultuous year of devastation that surmounted what any political party could have orchestrated, President Joe Biden was sworn into office. On the steps of the U.S. Capitol— where just weeks before, the largest and most destructive insurrection in modern history occurred— Biden delivered an Inaugural Address that would serve as a declaration, possibly a plea, for unity among American citizens:

“The American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us… to overcome these challenges— to restore the soul and to secure the future of America— requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.”

Despite a chart-topping 33.8 million people tuning in for President Biden’s address, the concept of Unity is one that has long been departed from American territory. Starting at the beginning of the century, and possibly exacerbated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, citizens of the United States have been in a constant tug-of-war with each other over the best policies to implement for the greater good of the nation. These conflicts have spilled over into the White House as well, with Congress members becoming more and more divided on substantial legislation— it seems as though the country is at a standstill, and has been for a while.

Jennifer Wolak, the author of “Compromise in an Age of Party Polarization,” understands this troubling concept, and even offers up some reasoning as to why:

“Why does compromise seem so hard to achieve? The seeming scarcity of compromise in Washington might be the product of stubborn ideologues and divided parties within Congress, but it might also be a consequence of the demands of the electorate. Legislators who resist concessions and stand firm to their convictions might be doing just what voters want them to do… If this is true, however, then citizens must shoulder some of the responsibility for gridlock in Congress. If the American public sees no value to political compromise, then legislators who fight only for their convictions and refuse to try to find common ground are merely acting in line with the wishes of their constituents.” (Wolak, 13)

The unwillingness of Congress to compromise on important issues does not mean that President Biden hasn’t introduced bills for their consideration, however. In just four short months, Biden proposed two major legislations— the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Plan. For the first plan, President Biden signed a massive $1.9-trillion coronavirus relief package into law on March 11, after a grueling and long debate between the U.S. House & Senate as to what components of the bill should make the final cut. The final vote for the amended bill was 220–211, just barely slipping through the cracks. Even though a CBS Poll showed that 70% of Republican citizens supported the measure, the majority of opposers in Congress were Republican. This challenges Wolak’s theory that most legislators are voting in line with what their constituents want.

The second plan, the American Jobs Plan, has not been voted on yet. The American Jobs Plan, according to President Biden on the whitehouse.gov website, is “a plan that puts millions of Americans to work to fix what’s broken in our country: tens of thousands of miles of roads and highways, thousands of bridges in desperate need of repair. But it also is a blueprint for infrastructure needed for tomorrow— not just yesterday, tomorrow— for American jobs, for American competitiveness.” In the same speech, President Biden reiterated the importance of action: that inaction is not an option (potentially referring to Congress).

So far, numerous polls have shown that there is a substantial amount of support for the proposal. One in particular from Data for Progress shows that 73% of all voters, and 57% of Republicans are in support. This doesn’t necessarily give hope for the measure to be passed in Congress, however, seeing as the aforementioned American Rescue Plan struggled to pass with similar support.

An Op-Ed by Jeffrey Sachs, published by CNN, suggests that the American Jobs Plan is “a comprehensive, well-targeted and timely approach to America’s many long-term economic ills, responding powerfully to 40 years of federal neglect.” An Op-Ed by Stephen Moore of Fox News, however, suggests that “Biden’s proposals will likely speed America further along the track to bankruptcy, higher interest rates, higher inflation and much higher taxes.” These conflicting opinion articles are only two of many differing opinions on the plan, and only add to the big question of whether the plan will pass in Congress. 

With this in mind, there are a few ways that it could pass in the next few months. The first utilizes budget reconciliation— if Democrats in Congress were to lump everything together into one budget reconciliation bill, and bypass the 60-vote threshold of the Senate filibuster, it could eventually pass. The second way is if Democrats are able to pass multiple budget reconciliation bills, giving them more options to pass Biden’s job plan in multiple parts. The third way is the least likely, because it involves Democrats and Republicans working together to pass a bipartisan transportation reauthorization bill. Committees in the House and Senate are currently working on this bill, which comes up every five years.

Taking into account the public’s opinion on the bill, two major news organizations’ influential opinion articles on the bill, and the history of bipartisan legislation (or lack thereof), I believe that the chances of unanimous support in Congress for the American Jobs Plan are slim. In fact, I think that the passage of the bill will likely end up in a similar position as the American Rescue Plan— with smaller parts of the plan being voted out, much like the $15 minimum wage measure that never made it into the final bill.

Like Wolak said in her book, “both the design of government and the deepening divide between the political parties represent significant challenges to the prospects for congressional compromise.” One can only hope that the past year has provided enough crises for lawmakers to open up to the idea of compromise in the White House. 

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