Two weeks and two days into President Joe Biden's term, Senate Democrats — to use the parlance of the late humorist Lewis Grizzard — tore out the president's plea for unity in his inaugural address and stomped that sucker flat by pushing through the mechanism to pass a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill with a simple majority vote.
With the Senate divided 50-50 (50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two independents who vote with Democrats), a majority vote for a final bill can be cast by Vice President Kamala Harris.
In fact, it was Harris who cast the deciding vote Friday morning to pass the mechanism — the budget resolution — that will allow the simple majority vote instead of the usual 60-vote threshold when the final bill is readied.
That doesn't mean there won't be some semblance of give-and-take before the final vote, but it does mean Biden will get pretty much what he wants with the mammoth spending measure. The resolution doesn't apply to other future bills, but it does say the president's plea for unity fell on deaf ears among members of his own party.
But later Friday, the president acted as if the nontraditional way in which the bill will be passed doesn't bother him, labeling completing it quickly with no Republican support "an easy choice" rather than taking longer and compromising in some areas.
Senate Republicans had largely agreed with the spending in the bill for coronavirus measures but diverged from Democrats on, among other things, additional $1,400 stimulus checks for all Americans, no matter their income, and a $15 minimum wage, double the current amount.
Larry Summers, who held top economic posts in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Democratic administrations, worried about the spending too.
"[M]uch of the policy discussion has not fully reckoned with the magnitude of what is being debated," he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. A $1.9 trillion stimulus package could prompt "inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability," and is a step "into the unknown."
To get to the final budget resolution measure Friday morning, Democrats had to submit to a number of Republican amendment proposals, which, while not binding, did highlight the hypocrisy and lack of courage of Democrats.
For instance, Republican amendments passed with bipartisan majorities to oppose the blocking of the Keystone XL Pipeline, to oppose the banning of fracking, and to oppose stimulus checks for illegal immigrants.
But a final Democratic amendment wiped out the above three amendments, with Democrats returning to vote with their party and Harris again casting the deciding vote to break a 50-50 tie. In other words, Democrats didn't really mean what they said when they voted for the original amendments.
Another amendment, by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, which was that the federal minimum wage would not be raised to $15 during the pandemic, passed by voice vote.
The minimum wage and the amount and distribution of stimulus checks are likely tenets of the bill that will be negotiated before the final proposal is voted on.
Democrats know a $15 minimum wage will be a job killer in states with a lower cost of living and in the rural parts of states. So while they are unlikely to come off the top amount, they may accede to raising it to $15 over a specified number of years.
Since Biden promised $2,000 checks "out the door" to Georgians when campaigning for Democratic candidates during last month's runoffs, he's not willing to back off that amount in theory. But he's already said that amount does include the $600 stimulus checks the previous Senate passed in December.
His administration also has been taking heat for the hypocrisy of standing behind checks to the wealthiest Americans after members of his party spent three years criticizing the Trump administration's 2017 tax cut, which gave breaks not just to the wealthy but to all those who paid income taxes.
In the end, Biden is likely to agree to target the next round of checks, as Republicans have been suggesting. Whether it will go to single individuals making more than $50,000 and couples making more than $100,000, or more or less, will be up for negotiation.
House leaders now will tailor a bill to match that in the Senate, and Democratic leaders say they hope a final measure can be enacted before mid-March.
In essence, the Democrats have ensured Biden's honeymoon, at least with Republicans, was a quick one. Deciding out of the gate that unity was unnecessary, that compromise was a dirty word and that healing was not important sets the tone for the Biden presidency. Only time will tell whether the president chose the right hill to die on.