Say what you like about Congressional bickering and forever disorganized Democrats; They have shown over the past few weeks that they deserve to be recognized as the party of ideas.
And not just some thoughts; Many, many ideas—perhaps too much for one piece of legislation: universal preschool, federally subsidized child care, clean energy tax credits, even a civilian climate corps, by a newly invented surcharge on millionaires been paid.
It’s a good thing he had so many ideas available; In a 50-50 Senate, where any one member can block any motion, they need a bag of backups.
Sen Kirsten Cinema Wouldn’t agree to raise tax rates on Arizona’s wealthy? Okay, let’s try putting a levy on the tax-free capital gains of 700 billionaires.
Sen Joe Manchin III Don’t love that of West Virginia? Well, let’s settle for a “patriotic tax” aimed only at millionaires instead.
It doesn’t look like the law should have been made. The world’s largest deliberative body has turned into the world’s least deliberative body, with senators rummaging through the closet for ideas progressives and moderates can live with.
The product is what aficionados call “Frankbill,” a strange creation stitched together from scraps of this and that. (The term refers to the Gothic monster, not the former Minnesota senator.)
It’s not a matter of beauty. The version unveiled by President Biden on Thursday abruptly abandoned some of his most cherished campaign promises: low prescription drug prices, free community college, Paid family leave.
And, of course, it has not yet passed.
But it is undeniably bigger; $1.85 trillion That’s only half of what Biden asked for in 10 years, but huge nonetheless. And its undeniably ambitious; This includes the largest climate change spending package in history and a significant expansion of federal support for child care and early education.
However, one problem with hasty legislation is that writers may be left to repent at leisure. Whatever version of the bill remains, it will include provisions that very few voters have ever heard of. This would make it easier for the GOP to attack those programs, especially if one runs into start-up problems. Anyone remember the disastrous start of Obamacare in 2013?
To be fair, Democratic leaders believed they didn’t have much choice. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made it clear he didn’t want to offer any help to Biden; His 49 fellow GOP senators have remained impressively unified as the number one party.
So the Democrats needed every single one of their 50 votes — and that meant whatever Munchkin and Cinema said, it goes.
For all that, Bill isn’t as bad as it sounds, as a 19th-century comedian once said of Wagner’s music.
Despite the appearance of a few weeks of frantic conversation slapped together, parts of the bill have been sitting on Democrats’ shelves for years, waiting for the moment they can be written into law.
“There’s not much new here,” Elaine Kamark of the Brookings Institution told me. “A lot of it is an extension of existing programs. And the tax credits are too easy. Not too much that the government can screw up.”
It’s on brand for Biden, who didn’t run for president as a candidate for fresh ideas. (That was Sen. Elizabeth Warren.) Biden ran as the candidate for old ideas; He promised to end the work of the Obama administration. Much of what he is doing now is on a larger scale than most voters expected.
The provision of universal preschool education and federally subsidized child care is greater than anything the federal government has done before in those areas. These programs may not be easy to implement, relying on partnerships with interested state governments. And like the bill’s other programs, they are set to expire after several years—only six in these cases.
So there will be further drama as to which programs succeed and which fail, and which may survive Republican attempts to quash them — like repeated threats to Obamacare before the GOP reluctantly adds to its permanence. faced.
Biden, who prefers to compare his presidency with the transformational era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, can console himself: Some of FDR’s New Deal programs didn’t work, and many didn’t survive until the 1930s. .
Roosevelt said in 1932, “Country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take one method and try it. If it fails, accept it honestly and try another.”
The question for Democrats is whether bold ideas are what Americans want right now. FDR began his experiment at the bottom of the recession, and voters rewarded his party decades later.
Whether they will react the same way this time around is something Democrats will learn in the 12 months leading up to the 2022 congressional election.