Lengthy media reports have been pointing to the travails of the President whose misfortune it is to have succeeded Donald Trump because of the high expectations among many people. The reports paint a gloomy picture of the Joe Biden administration, not only now but the possibility that Democrats could lose both Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
The reports indicate Biden’s popularity has dropped to 42 percent and that Democrats are now just as likely as Republicans to be highly critical of the President’s performance. But those reports do not provide a wide enough context for what has been happening. Indeed, the Biden agenda has stalled, including key voting rights and police reform bills and the Build Back Better social safety net enhancements. Why this has been happening may not be clear to critics.
Democrats won the Senate in 2020 after grabbing the two seats in Georgia but that gave them a majority only because the Vice President also has a vote. Still, the 51-50 split should be enough to pass legislation, except for the ﬁlibuster, a Senate procedure which allows the minority party to block even bringing any proposed legislation up for debate unless the Democrats can meet a 60-vote threshold. Using that power, Republicans have united to block both the voting rights and police reform bills.
The Democrats can use their 51-vote majority to end or modify the ﬁlibuster but that would require their unanimous approval, However, at least two Senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Krysten Sinema, oppose such a move. Biden himself has been reluctant to tamper with the ﬁlibuster but, knowing the importance of the reform bills, he seems to be changing his mind.
But if Biden can win over Manchin and Sinema and moves against the ﬁlibuster and the Republicans capture the Senate next year, that will put the Democrats in a political wilderness. The Republicans will be free to do whatever they want. On the other hand, should the ﬁlibuster remain and the Republicans are victorious next year, Democrats will at least be able check any legislative excesses.
So legislative failure so far is not due to Biden’s being incompetent. It is just that he has been dealt a hand in a political deck of cards which has more than one king and more than one queen. He is known to be ﬁercely courting the two members of political royalty, which makes for a state of affairs in which two Democratic Senators are holding hostage the agenda of their President at a time when all Republicans are united against it.
The bartering between Biden and his two nemeses has been going also on another key proposal – the President’s Build Back Better initiative. This time, the ﬁlibuster is not to blame. In fact, just as a united Democratic caucus can end the ﬁlibuster, so too can it pass the initiative using a procedure known as reconciliation through which any budget-related bill can pass with a simple majority of 51 votes. Except, once again, Manchin and Sinema stand in the way.
Manchin opposes the clean energy component of Build Back Better, saying he wants to protect his state’s vital coal industry. But he also opposes proposals in the package to provide a range of social safety beneﬁts, claiming they will create an “entitlement society.”
Manchin also objects to tax increases on corporations and those making more than $400,000 to pay for the package. So does Sinema, who, like several other Democrats are in the pockets of the pharmaceuticals industry, also opposes a proposal to make prescription drugs cheaper.
Biden cannot push them too hard because if either – or both — defects from the party, control of the Senate will pass to the Republicans. So, even though the Democrats can use reconciliation to pass the Bill Back Better agenda, they have to be united to do so.
The New York Times, in a 1,500-word story, reported that not only Republicans but also Democrats are putting up placards and yard signs denouncing Biden for not delivering after nine months in ofﬁce. Some Republican signs, according to The Times, are often vulgar and disrespectful of the President. But that is not new.
The so-called Tea Party, organized around opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – Obama Care – drew similar even personal attacks against President Barack Obama. That campaign was mounted and sustained by very rich people. Now the impetus comes from the lie that the 2020 election was “stolen” promulgated by Trump – the President who, in his four years in ofﬁce, made 30,573 lies and inaccurate statements, The Washington Post reported.
Still, The Times said, “There’s no evidence the damage to Mr. Biden is irreparable,” so long, of course, as he can deliver results urgently.
Biden and his Congressional colleagues may have been biting off more than they can chew and choking on some of it as they race against time apparently to replicate some of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The speed with which several states are enacting laws restricting voting so Republicans can dominate elections must be at the front of their minds. Manchin and Sinema have played the role of spoilers well, especially on the Build Back Better package and it seems almost certain at the time of writing that a few of the proposals will be jettisoned and others pared back, with the price tag, originally $6 trillion, then $3.5 trillion, ending at around $2 trillion. Even that will be a major victory for Biden and prove that the process of political sausage making can indeed be messy.