Democrats find themselves wishing for a happy New Year after 2021 sputtered to a disappointing conclusion with their sprawling climate and social welfare proposal not keeping up the legislative momentum by also reaching President Biden's desk. But it's not clear things will get any easier.
The White House clearly hopes Build Back Better can be revived next year and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged to bring it to a vote. It now seems just as likely, however, that either Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will remain dug in (he does represent a state where Biden won just under 29.7 percent of the vote), or progressives who feel burned by his defection will not be enthused by any concessions that can secure his vote.
So even if Democrats do pass something, it could be a letdown to activists who thought a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill was the compromise. And there's no guarantee that they pass anything. Then, when they move on to tackling the issue of voting rights — or, as their critics put it, a federal election overhaul that will weaken voting integrity — they will have to get Republicans on board, or the usual suspects in their own caucus to go along with weakening or eliminating the filibuster.
Assuming they can even keep Manchin — who is being recruited by Republicans to be the next Jim Jeffords-style Senate flipper — in the caucus, Democrats will eventually turn from trying to accomplish things with their razor-thin majorities to defending their very existence. After March or so, they will be loath to make vulnerable members take tough votes. Remember how little congressional Democrats did after the passage of ObamaCare? And after that, the majorities could be wiped away in the midterm elections.
Biden, like his former boss, can resort to the pen and the phone. But his executive actions have already had a mixed record at best in court. Plus, as former President Donald Trump found when he wanted to reverse his immediate predecessor's handiwork, executive orders are much more easily overturned by future presidents than legislation.
It's possible that if COVID recedes and inflation subsides, Biden's poll numbers will rebound. Maybe the president already hit rock bottom and there's nowhere to go but up in 2022. But Democrats also risk going into the midterms with New Deal dreams — and a Do-Nothing reality.