Democrats’ agenda kneecapped by voting margin

The power of two Democratic senators to derail party priorities is due to a razor-thin majority, not poor party unity, says Mount Holyoke’s Adam Hilton.

Apparent Democratic disunity in Congress is an issue of math, not matter, wrote Assistant Professor of Politics Adam Hilton in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage.

The ability of two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema — to hold up party priorities by sabotaging Senate votes has transformed President Biden’s optimistic agenda into a never-ending battle, which is being slogged out in Democratic trenches.

The recent defeat of Biden’s marquee infrastructure bill, “Build Back Better,” appeared to solidify Machin’s and Sinema’s positions as the party’s shiv-wielding king-makers. It’s not a good look for a party that already has a reputation for infighting and disunity. 

However, the old trope that the Democratic party is hopelessly fractured is not true in this case. In fact, Hilton argues, Democrats are more unified than ever, but the political math is not in their favor.

“Figures like Manchin and Sinema become more prominent because of the rural-state bias of the Senate, where every state is represented by two senators, no matter how large or small the population,” wrote Hilton. 

While they may hold the power to tip the scales at present because of structural rules governing Senate math, Hilton sees the gambit as a short-term one. 

Citing the differences between the extreme ends of the Democratic party, with Manchin and Sinema holding up the conservative side, Hilton notes that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders on the other side represent large networks of activist supporters and have deep support in the party’s progressive caucus, which continues to gain in strength and momentum.

“Manchin and Sinema’s high profiles are a product of Senate rules and tough coalition arithmetic, making them outliers,” he said. “[But] it’s clear in which direction the party is heading.”

Read the op-ed.

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