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COVID-19 relief bill passage hinged on compromise

President Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan passed in the Senate with a vote along party lines. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the significance of the bill and what this means for the president’s legislative agenda and the party’s political position ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on President Biden's executive orders, his legislative agenda, the stimulus plan and the partisan divide, Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins us from Santa Barbara, California.

    Jeff, what's the most striking aspect to you about this legislation?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    It's how enormous the COVID package is in the face of the 50-50 Senate. I mean, historically, particularly Democratic presidents get social legislation done after they win landslides like Roosevelt in 1932 or Lyndon Johnson after the '64 election. That's how you got Social Security or Medicare. But here Biden came in with a $1.9 trillion package and came out of the Senate with a $1.9 trillion package without a vote to spare. I just think that is really quite astonishing and perhaps unprecedented.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There's also a lot of progressives, a lot of Democrats wondering, OK, technically we have the White House, we have the House, we have the Senate, but we couldn't get minimum wage in there. We had to make concessions about unemployment insurance to really came down to Democratic senators that we were trying to convince the whole time.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    My feeling is at this point, even among some progressives, the idea is why don't we take not even half a loaf, but 90 percent of the loaf instead of nothing? Indeed, they didn't get minimum wage. And it's interesting that when Bernie Sanders called for an up or down vote on minimum wage, he only got 42 votes, couldn't get close to 50, even with Democrats. So the idea that you are getting this much help for state and local governments for mass transit, for renters who are facing eviction, a big increase in the accessibility to Obamacare, to do that, okay, you give up what you can't win to get what you can. Remember, Biden ran in part because he said, I know how to get things done through a Senate. I understand compromise. And so compromise here got him this enormous package. And I don't think there's going to be too much pushback on this.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. So best-case scenario, the legislation goes to the House. They pass it, again, we're having this conversation on Sunday. Everything in this new political world could change. But what are the broader implications?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, the first question is, will this work? Will it supercharge the economy? Will it lead to an enormous recovery? And will it validate those on the left who say we should be doing this kind of effort from the bottom up, not by giving tax cuts to the wealthy. And it will, to use the phrase trickle down, or as even some Democratic economists worry about, is just going to trigger a massive bout of inflation. But if it works, you're going to have President Biden in a very different position from his Democratic predecessors. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had huge midterm losses because the public at that time wasn't signed on to their big initiatives. In this case, 75 percent of the country by one poll is supporting Biden, and it suggests that at least he has the chance to avoid the historic midterm losses if this program works.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    When you start talking about midterms and elections, a lot of people are going to think about and talk about the fact that right now there is this grand tension playing out in front of our faces on how easy it is to vote, who should get the right to vote and under what circumstances. Right. We are having this conversation on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, it's the first time that John Lewis hasn't been there for it. But how do you think this plays out?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, the president is signing an executive order to use the federal government to help increase the right to vote. My feeling, bluntly, is that's mostly symbolic. The power to decide who votes and how is largely in the hands of state legislatures, mostly Republican. And they seem to be on a campaign, to be very frank, to restrict the ability to vote, whether it's canceling Sunday voting harder absentee ballot procedures.

    The Democrats are putting a lot of faith in H.R.-1. That's the name of this bill that's supposed to protect voting power. But you can't do that through reconciliation, that parliamentary procedure that got the COVID package through. You either need 60 votes or you have to bust the filibuster. And two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say we're not passing the filibuster. So to me, it's a kind of chutes and ladders game, you know, where everything is a chute, no matter how the Democrats think they can do this. And I would throw in their statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico. Unless they figure out some way to get around that filibuster, what it means is that now that COVID's passed, everything that the president and Democrats want to do legislatively is going to be much, much harder because of that 60 vote barrier.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara, California. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you.

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