WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden must win.
The coronavirus pandemic rages on . The Congressional Democrats are at war about the scope and size of his domestic “Build Back Better” agenda. And he is getting hammered by Republicans for the execution of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and by Democrats on his immigration policies following the abuse and deportation of Haitian immigrants.
Republican critics say Biden’s presidency has demonstrated the opposite of the competence he campaigned on, and his public approval ratings have settled under water — measured at 43 percent by Gallup this week. FiveThirtyEight.com, which uses a formula to adjust and aggregate public polls, shows Biden with a combined approval rating of 45.6 percent and a disapproval level of 49 percent. It’s not that the honeymoon is over. Biden’s marriage to the public is in ruins. Many Democrats feel that Biden’s best chance of salvaging the marriage — perhaps his last chance before the specter from mid-term elections paralyzes Congress – is to pass as much of his two part, $4 trillion plan in order to strengthen infrastructure and expand the nation’s social safety net.
Few are betting that Biden will get all of it, and there’s still a chance he could walk away with nothing. As President Barack Obama did so often, he is counting on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to get the most contentious parts through the House. This is her biggest legislative test since the passage of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago, and she seems to know it.
” The next few days are going to be intense,” she wrote in Saturday’s letter to House Democrats. She has promised to vote on the bipartisan, Senate-passed Infrastructure bill Monday. The Democrats-only budget reconciliation measure — funding for social programs — will be voted on “this week.” “
A few moderates in both the House and Senate are trying to reduce the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. They have threatened to kill the bill if they don’t support the infrastructure measure. Progressives, on the other hand, say that they will sink the infrastructure bill if moderates refuse to support the social spending. While most progressives accept the fact that they won’t get $3.5 trillion, it only takes four House Democrats and one Senate Democrat for any bill to be stopped.
Biden’s allies believe this week will be a turning point, based on the enactment policies that they feel are good for the party and the public. They also see danger.
“There is no doubt that we (POTUS) and all Dems absolutely need both bills passing,” Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania said in a text swap. “If they don’t, it will be a disaster for Dems in 2022. But if they pass, then Biden and congressional Dems will have achieved the most significant changes to our social safety net since The Great Society. This would be a huge, major win. “
Biden clearly can see his 2.0 version Lyndon Johnson’s safety-net expansion shrinking in front of his eyes. Centrist Sens. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have both said that it is too large for them. Biden, in defiance of this reality, signaled earlier this week that he was willing to reduce the reconciliation bill to get moderates to support it. His margins are small: only four House Democrats and one Senate Democrat can stop legislation being passed.
The first question for Biden’s and Democratic leaders in Congress will be whether there is a number that can satisfy both sides. If progressives can’t accept the reconciliation portion, then the entire domestic legislative agenda of Biden could end up in the trashcan.
It could prove even more difficult to figure out the details of the tax and spending mix. A few high-tax lawmakers are outraged at Biden’s preference for removing the former President Donald Trump’s limit on federal deductions taxpayers can use to offset state or local taxes.
In addition, Manchin, D-W.Va., has said he doesn’t support the reconciliation bill’s expanded Medicare benefits at a time when the program’s hospital fund is due to run out of money in five years, and Sinema doesn’t like the way the measure aims to hold down prescription-drug prices.
Progressives are furious at moderates’ failure to offer concrete counterproposals, which makes it more difficult — if not impossible — to negotiate with them. Despite months of public debate about the details of the legislation’s provisions and its size, neither side has moved.
Faiz Shakir, the top aide on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, said Biden’s penchant for civility and consensus is a double-edged sword: it’s why people like him, but it could be preventing him from drawing the contrasts that mobilize support for an agenda and a politician. Shakir stated that as president of the United States you must create friction. People will rally to your cause if they see you fighting for it. “
Biden should name and shame his enemies — in Congress as well as in industry — Shakir stated.
“He is a carrots-approach individual,” he stated. “But sometimes, the stick’s got gotta come out. “
He is reluctant to whip Sinema, Manchin and their allies in Congress, partly because it doesn’t work.
Biden met with Democratic congressional leaders, progressives, and moderates earlier this week. All sides declared their sessions productive and collegial. However, no one was able to claim any concrete progress on the bills.
The window of opportunity for action is closing fast, and Biden cannot afford to close it without accomplishing a large portion of the work he set out. This could be a compromise between enacting infrastructure legislation on Monday and allowing reconciliation negotiations to proceed. However, liberals have said they will reject the former if there’s not an agreement on the latter. After displaying his legislative acumen while on the campaign trail it is now that Biden has to show it.
If he doesn’t, Democrats will have to campaign on what they didn’t do.