Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters as work continues on the Democrats' Build Back Better Act, massive legislation that is a cornerstone of President Joe Biden's domestic agenda, at the Capitol, in Washington, Tuesday, September 14, 2021.
CNN  — 

In a way, it’s almost hard to believe: Here Democrats are, in control of the Congress and the White House, and they can’t figure out how to get to yes and pass a measure the public actually likes.

Sure, President Joe Biden’s economic agenda is bigger than the moderates say they can live with. And the progressives say they won’t make it smaller. But explain: Why can’t they come up with an acceptable way to make it smaller and give Americans lots of stuff they want – like lower drug prices? Why are they endangering already endangered seats heading into an already dangerous midterm election for Democrats? Why can’t they behave as, er, adults?

As if on cue, Democrats faced with the possibility of actually passing popular legislation somehow divide into warring factions. Republicans just watch, get out of the way and cannot believe their great good luck. Republican bad behavior on voting against an increase in the debt ceiling gets short shrift while the Democrats dither on the budget.

That Biden needs a big win is obvious. As John Podesta, a Clinton and Obama White House veteran, put it in a memo to his fellow Democrats: “President Biden has staked his presidency on demonstrating to the American people … that democracy can deliver. A democracy that fails to solve the problems of its constituents is a failing democracy.”

Ipso facto, a president that cannot deliver is a failing president. So it’s either compromise or catastrophe. If the Democrats cannot get over their differences this time around, they will have demonstrated that the Democratic Party is not ready to be a governing party.

“My message is we’re either going to swim together or sink together,” Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin tells me. “Every man or woman for themselves doesn’t work.”

It’s almost hard to believe that Democrats are engaging in such potentially self-destructive behavior. Maybe all of this is just one big kabuki dance so the moderates and the progressives can shout their priorities before getting down to business and getting something passed. Failure is so irrational; it seems impossible they would accept it. Then again, you never know how myopic or ideological they will turn out to be.

Consider this: Most of the items in the budget bill are things Democrats would love to campaign on (lower drug prices and health care costs, attacking climate change). If they get nothing, why would Democratic voters turn out in the 2022 midterms? The opportunity cost is huge, not to mention the cost to the presidency. If Democratic promises are killed by Democratic infighting, Republicans can say “I told you so” – and with good reason.

It’s obvious that the sheer weight of these bills could push it all to collapse. The Democrats have proposed nothing less than a wholesale rewrite of the nation’s social safety net.

At some point, after Democrats figure out that failure really is not an option, maybe they’ll get together and work out how to get in a room without bright red lines and write something they can agree on. If they can’t, they’ll all sink – along with the President.

You have to believe they understand this enough to get out of their own way. And get to yes.