Passing legislation of this magnitude and ambition two months before a new president’s term expires would be a convincing victory for the government. The political gains for Biden from his first legacy could be even greater. He had to push the measure through a slim majority in Congress and navigate a Democratic caucus torn by ideological divisions, amid the worst domestic crisis since World War II. But according to a CNN poll released Tuesday, the bailout plan is widely popular, and Biden’s approval rating tilted in a positive direction about 50 days after he was sworn in.
Biden ran his election campaign on the promise that he would give millions of Americans bonuses and money to get children back to school while increasing the pace of vaccinations. When he addresses Americans for the first time on prime time Thursday, he will be able to claim that he kept his word by fighting to end a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 525,000 Americans.
Leadership issues. The number of vaccinations is rising, the number of infections is falling, a $1,400 survival test is coming, and that’s just the beginning, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, a New Yorker, said Tuesday.
With tax credits for children and the working poor, increased subsidies for health insurance, and food and rent assistance, the U.S. stimulus package is designed to do more than just boost the economy. Vermont’s liberal champion, Senator Bernie Sanders, hailed the decision as a major victory for the progressive movement and the largest targeted support for American workers in years. Although many of the bill’s provisions are short-lived, CNN’s Kevin Liptak said Tuesday that the president intends to work to make them permanent.
Success early on is essential for presidents to be able to use their power when they are at the top of their game. Political strength is built for later legislative battles by setting priorities and uniting party factions around a common cause. Presidents who have trouble maintaining first priorities are not necessarily doomed. But they risk becoming a mess that could hurt them in the first midterm elections, as was the case with President Bill Clinton’s failed attempt to reform U.S. health care.
Biden’s openness bill passed the Senate last weekend before receiving a crucial vote from moderate Democrat Joe Manchin. The president personally intervened to win over the West Virginian, invoking his experience as a former Senate officer that he told voters would help ease divisions in Washington. In many ways, his leadership on the measure – mostly behind the scenes, but when necessary – is a return to the traditional presidential chatter after the fierce tweets of his predecessor, who often shifted his positions on legislation and exposed his own lawmakers politically.
Although Manchin won concessions on the timing of extending unemployment benefits, he was ultimately able to vote for a mostly liberal bill, despite coming from a state where former President Donald Trump won twice by large majorities. And progressives, shocked by the repeal of the federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, chose their income by staying behind and vowing to fight another day.
But Biden failed to deliver on another of his campaign promises: Winning Republican support for key initiatives. The president estimated the value of the alternative package at $600 billion. The $10 million proposed by 10 GOP senators is insufficient for the scale of the crisis. So far, the bill has failed to find Republican supporters in the House and Senate, as Biden’s opponents count on early positioning in the midterm elections and count on a pro-Trump activist base to deny the new president an early victory.
The bailout plan is unusually popular for such a large and politically important measure. Several polls show that over 60% of the population supports him, which means that some of the Republican and independent voters are on board.
However, if such an expensive bill fails, Biden will be exposed by the lack of Republican support. Top GOP lawmakers have called it priority No. 1 because it’s a massive, unfocused liberal giveaway. At the same time, some economists fear that this could cause a surge in inflation in an economy that already appears to be recovering and could overheat if the pandemic is resolved quickly.
House Republican Conference Chairman Liz Cheney warned Tuesday that the scope of the bill would have inevitable consequences – even though the GOP liked to throw money around when Trump was president.
It’s a real tragedy when you look at the package. We know the result of this package will be higher taxes for the middle class, the Wyoming Republican said.
Some experts have already called the bill the most fundamental boost to the welfare state since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society measures. If Biden’s ambitions are comparable to those of LBJ and New Dealer President Franklin Roosevelt, then perhaps the bailout bill is not worthy of such comparison.
Many of the key provisions – including health insurance subsidies, an additional child tax credit and food stamps – will expire in a few months or two years at most. Progressive activists, however, see the law as an advance on federal benefits that will be politically difficult to repeal, at least under a Democratic majority. The bill will no doubt become a pillar of the Democrats’ campaign in next year’s midterm elections.
After his speech Thursday, Biden is expected to hold his first press conference as president, address a joint session of Congress and board Air Force One as part of a national blitz that has so far been delayed by the pandemic.
Biden said President Barack Obama had been too silent in 2009 about the success of the $800 billion stimulus bill, and he seemed to want to avoid the same mistake.
In this case, however, the recovery from the Great Recession will still be slow. At the time of the 2010 midterm elections, many Americans were still hurting, and it seemed sad to make a rounds.
But if the current vaccination pace continues and the end of the pandemic is not derailed by a wave of illness and deaths from Covid-19 variants, Biden can expect a much faster and more vigorous economic recovery.
The bill is almost the opposite of Trump’s only major legislative triumph outside of the conservative overhaul of the judiciary: a massive $1.5 trillion tax cut aimed primarily at corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
The comparison reveals a huge ideological divide between the two parties, even as some of Trump’s Republican supporters latch on to culture war themes to present their party as the true voice of America’s working class.
But GOP lawmakers also have little interest in breaking with the party line, despite the popularity of the Biden bill, because in the era of gerrymandering of seats and entrenched party loyalty, the biggest threat to their jobs lies in primary issues.
The White House is preparing to wrap up what it considers a major success, but the process of passing the American Recovery Act also contained warning signals for Biden as he ponders the rest of his ambitious agenda, which includes an overhaul of immigration laws, climate change legislation, infrastructure spending and gun control.
His initial request for $1.9 trillion – not far from half the annual U.S. federal budget – plays into the hands of Republicans by arguing that his government would be based on out-of-control socialism. But the attack on an electorate with significant freedoms seems to have resonated in last November’s election, when Republicans narrowly missed out on the Democrats’ majority in the House.
The hard work of getting moderate Democratic senators like Manchin and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona to align with their colleagues suggests that tough talks could follow as Democrats try to curb the fossil fuel industry. And eight Senate Democrats voted against Sanders’ proposal to include a minimum wage increase in the Senate bill. The Vermont independents’ move was symbolic in many ways, but it also exposed one of the Democratic fault lines on Capitol Hill.
The partisan nature of the votes on Mr. Biden’s stimulus package has led some Democrats to wonder whether they will try to repeal the filibuster rules, which require a 60-vote majority to pass most major legislation. The $8 billion was obtained through a process known as reconciliation, which applies only to budgetary matters and can only be applied sparingly.
According to the White House, Mr. Biden, a traditionalist in the Senate, hopes to avoid such a move – which would likely be a step too far for Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema. But it seems equally certain that Democratic priorities, like voting rights, will die a 50-50 death in the Senate.