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Bipartisan Senate gang places policy over party

Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 2:23 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A bloc of senators tries to lead from the political middle. Experts say they’re unlikely to launch policy discussions, but will be pivotal in bringing them to a close.

Democrats hold the tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate. But, gridlock is all but guaranteed on most issues without agreement from both sides.

“We have got to work together,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.)

In late 2020, Manchin helped cobble together a bipartisan gang to negotiate the last coronavirus relief bill. Manchin said their work isn’t done, “that group has stayed together, and we will build off that group.”

The gang has added more members since the new Congress was sworn-in January 3rd. On the left, it includes Manchin, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) make up the Republican membership.

Even as the group grows, its traction appears to be slipping on their original issue: coronavirus relief. Democrats are preparing to pass a two-trillion-dollar package without banking on G.O.P. support.

Portman would consider that a setback but not the end for their bloc. “We have a role to play here,” he said, “I think there are a lot of other opportunities.”

Portman sees a bipartisan path forward investing in infrastructure and reinforcing retirement security. Whatever the topic, he argues that if their bipartisan group can reach agreement, the whole chamber should be able to sign off.

“If we did have those 16 people saying, ‘okay, this ain’t perfect, but it moves the country forward, we’re for it… that would provide essentially the margin to get something done,” he said.

Middlebury College Political Science Professor Matt Dickinson said, historically, bipartisan groups like the group of 16 are the only way policy gets pushed through a narrowly divided Senate.

“You can’t ignore the moderate middle,” he said, “they’re going to play an important role.”

Dickinson said while Democratic leaders will dictate which issues come up for debate, the likes of Manchin and Portman will be at the center of any policy deal.

They and the President pledge to find compromise, but, “If you do not have a basis for bipartisan agreement, often these parties will, as we’ve seen in the past, simply say, ‘I prefer to do nothing’.”

Gridlock may simply be a political reality for those left in-between two parties pulled in opposing directions.

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