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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Lagniappes and poison pills

by John Brummett | February 23, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

It happened in part from demographic migration and in part from lightning striking.

Now the issue is whether Democrats can govern as they won, by the skin of their teeth. We'll begin finding out this week.

Democrats lost ground in November in their House majority and took control of the U.S. Senate by rallying for a tie that Kamala Harris can break.

They capitalized in the Senate and presidential races on minority fervor and suburban anti-Trump sentiment in the growth states -- and emerging swing states -- of Arizona and Georgia.

Hispanic votes combined with suburban moderates moving into and abounding in the Phoenix metropolitan area -- and recoiling against Donald Trump's behavior and virus record -- pulled out the photo-finish win in Arizona.

Black votes plus suburban moderates moving into and abounding around Atlanta, and similarly recoiling, did the narrow trick in Georgia.

Thus, the model for Democratic success is clear. It blends high turnouts among minorities with swing-voting and highly educated professional people. It relies on exploding and evolving suburbs and exurbs that can go either way, but happen to be in an anti-Republican mood, which the rare disgrace of Trump provided.

Now we'll see if Democrats can execute a policy issue as simple and popular as covid relief.

The House of Representatives will go first on President Biden's $1.9 trillion package. It will deliver passage likely by a strict party-line vote.

All relevant House committees have approved elements, which include $1,400 payments to most Americans, extensions in special unemployment compensation, aid to state governments and small businesses, speeding the vaccination process, aiding schools toward full reopening, and beginning a four-year rise in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Then the measure will go the Senate, where the 50-plus-Kamala contingent intends to use the budget reconciliation process to facilitate passage without a filibuster, meaning by Democrats only in a 50-plus-

Kamala vote.

Biden was offered a negotiation by 10 center-right Republican senators proposing a smaller number. But he spurned the overture, saying the nation needed to go big because of economic constriction and practically nonexistent interest rates.

He didn't want to risk appearing pliable on his first issue. He said he'd get around to bipartisanship and unity on the next issue, apparently infrastructure, when he intends again to go big.

Alas, there are Democratic problems in the Senate, where no Democrat can be spared.

The "Byrd Rule" prohibits using the majority-only budget reconciliation process for non-budgetary items, which the minimum increase probably is. The parliamentarian will decide, but could be overruled by the membership.

West Virginia's unlikely Democratic senator, the surviving centrist Joe Manchin, thinks a nationwide $15 minimum wage is too high for a poor state like his. He has told Biden that, and that he absolutely would not vote to overrule the parliamentarian should she nix the minimum wage.

Then there is Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Democrats celebrated her narrow win in 2018. They delighted that she found a self-styled path to decisive Phoenix metro success, emphasizing independence tending to moderation.

Now she says she doesn't believe a minimum-wage increase has anything to do with the budget and that she can't go along with incorporating it into budget reconciliation. And now liberal Democrats assail her for being true to the nature of the path they admired to the win they celebrated.

They prefer that she switch after having baited.

The minimum wage is a worthy issue, but its own issue, when it could be filibustered. More than 40 Republicans might seek a poison-pill amendment and use its rejection by Democrats as an excuse to oppose the bill.

That's a malignant trick of the trade of partisan dysfunction. It is why Democrats are trying to cram the minimum wage sideways into Covid relief.

That's another trick of partisan dysfunction -- "omnibus" legislation favored by both parties when in control. "Omnibus bills" use popular issues as vehicles on which to load partisan lagniappes.

Democrats could remove the minimum wage, except the left base might revolt. Bernie Sanders is now the budget chairman and he twice won tens of millions of votes for president largely by arguing for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage.

The easy way out is for the Senate parliamentarian to make the obvious decision that the minimum-wage increase is not germane to budget reconciliation, and for Manchin and Sinema to foil any attempt to override that.

Speaking of poison pills: I should mention there is an unholy-looking Republican alliance on a bill for a minimum-wage increase. It's unholy in that it is co-sponsored by the reason-prone Mitt Romney and the reason-defying Tom Cotton.

It ties the increase to denying its application to the hiring of undocumented workers. And that is a non-starter, a poison pill, on the Democratic left.

Through it all, polls show people favor raising the minimum wage. But pollsters ask single-issue questions. The partisan Congress doesn't do single-issue votes. It does lagniappes and poison pills.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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