Opinion: After fast action on COVID relief, Biden agenda slows in Congress

As Senators wrapped up work before a Memorial Day break, there were no major agreements for lawmakers to trumpet and no big legislative victories produced by Congress for President Biden.

Instead, the Congress is acting like the Congress.

Following swift approval of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package just six weeks after Biden took office, Democrats had hoped to capitalize on that momentum, and quickly act on the President’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, known as the ‘American Jobs Plan.’

But talks between the White House and GOP Senators have produced little headway in terms of a bipartisan agreement, as the two sides tussle over how much to spend, and how to pay for it.

Not directly involved in the negotiations, Georgia Democrats have been pressing the case for action from the sidelines in the House and Senate.

“It’s time to rehabilitate and retrofit our nation’s infrastructure to meet the growing demands of a 21st-century world,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Quotes like that sound nice, but with no deal on funding for new roads and bridges, the infrastructure effort has stalled.

In fact, Democrats don’t plan to act on infrastructure legislation in the full Senate until at least July.

Meanwhile, negotiations have continued on police reform legislation — with many positive comments from key lawmakers in both parties. But just like with infrastructure, there has been no deal.

“We still need federal legislation to help demilitarize police, ban chokeholds nationally and bring more accountability and justice to our communities,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia.

“End qualified immunity,” added U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, touching on what remains the biggest hurdle to a deal on police legislation — whether to open officers accused of misconduct to possible lawsuits.

The chief Republican involved in the police reform talks says if there is going to be a deal, it must happen next month.

“It’s June or bust,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told reporters.

The White House repeatedly stressed the positive this week, saying ongoing negotiations are better than rushing into partisan failure.

“The President has had a principle from the beginning, which is that he wants to allow the negotiators the time and space to have those negotiations and those discussions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

But the clock is ticking on Democrats and President Biden, especially on infrastructure, where Democrats have to decide whether to pursue a bipartisan deal — or go it alone under special budget rules as they did with the COVID relief package.

“Sick and tired of sitting in traffic?” asked U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee this week. “We’re working on infrastructure in Congress.”

Yes, lawmakers are working on it. But it’s not clear if they will get something done.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com