Political honeymoons are no different from real-life ones — they do not last forever. And President Joseph Biden is finding out that his second 100 days in office is going to be nowhere close to the relative ease with which he faced the first one.
One of his biggest accomplishments as soon as he stepped into the Oval Office on January 20 was in getting the second stimulus package worth close to $ 2 trillion passed, not through any great show of bipartisanship, but through a legislative maneuver in the Senate called “reconciliation”.
With no Republicans participating in the vote, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wryly commented, “The American people already built a parade that’s been marching toward victory. Democrats just want to sprint to the front of that parade and claim credit.”
The weather in Washington DC is already turning hot and balmy and with it, tempers are fraying in the Republican and Democratic parties over what it is that the new administration is trying to do. Forget for a minute the US$ 6 trillion budget that President Biden is putting forth for fiscal 2022; and a figure that is said to move closer to US$ 8.3 trillion over the next few years.
The leaderships of the two parties have not even seen the finer details of the proposal which will eventually unravel in a separate Appropriations Bill that will come from the House of Representatives. For now, the Biden White House has just touched the surface including an estimated $ 753 billion spending for Defense for 2022. Republicans will be paying close attention to outlays for Foreign Aid and Immigration Reform.
The problem for President Biden is that the finer details of Budget proposals apart, he has already laid out an ambitious political and legislative agenda that has raised eyebrows not just in the Grand Old Party but within a section of Democrats as well. And consensus is that President Biden’s summer of ’21 will not only be hot and steamy but one of missed deadlines as well.
The White House is trying to put on a brave face of already having missed out on the first “big” one — Police Reform that should have been signed on May 25, the first anniversary of the brutal slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Republicans and Democrats could not agree on the wording of sensitive legislation especially pertaining to granting something called “qualified immunity” that prevented victims and families from suing police officers for alleged civil rights violations. In the end, as Reverend Al Sharpton said it is better to have a Bill with “teeth” rather than something that was “toothless”.
Democrats are not just flexing muscles on police reform and institutional racial injustice but also are trying to come to terms with Republican efforts to curtail voting rights in the name of electoral fraud and other perceived shortcomings of an electoral system. With many state capitals under their control the Grand Old Party has introduced more than 300 pieces of legislations related to voting rights that many see as a deliberate and calculated effort to keep African Americans and minorities away from the hustings on the polling day besides placing restrictions on mail-in ballots.
Activists have been urging President Biden to negate state-level laws by coming up with federal initiatives, a move that is yet to catch on in Washington DC in the hallways of Congress.
There are two other major initiatives of President Biden that are hanging in the balance — the massive infrastructure revamp known as the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan that seeks to further expand social safety networks.
The Biden White House initially put out a $ 2.3 trillion estimate for infrastructure, but subsequently pared it down to $ 1.7 trillion. The Republicans have placed their counter-offer at $ 928 billion even as the two sides are at odds over the definition of Infrastructure! The Biden Team has again put down a US$ 2.5 Trillion tab for the Families Plan that would include affordable childcare, universal pre-kindergarten, reasonable education costs, community colleges and a national paid leave program.
The second self-imposed deadline of Memorial Day, May 31, for the American Jobs Plan is also seen heading the same fate as that of Police Reforms. The problem for President Biden on his Infrastructure Plan is not just the Grand Old Party; he has to mollify his own progressive wing, especially in the Senate, if he is going for another “reconciliation” push as a last resort.
Republicans are against President Biden’s proposal to fund his Infrastructure Plan by hiking corporate tax from 21 per cent to 28 per cent; and the lead negotiator for Democrats is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is also against this on grounds that this would hurt competitiveness of the United States. Further Democrats are unwilling to compromise on Green Initiatives that Republicans are fuming about.
In the event of President Biden going the “reconciliation” route in the Senate, every single vote of Democrats in that chamber is needed. President Biden and Democrats are also aware that they can push this reconciliation route only so much — the mechanism is allowed only three times a year (one has already been done in the earlier Covid Stimulus Plan) and can be used only in legislation that pertains to revenue or spending. It has to be recalled that the Biden administration in the course of the COVID stimulus package passage had to drop the proposal to raise the federal minimum wage.
The small comfort to the White House came by way of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle coming together in massive numbers in the House and Senate to condemn racism in a bill on hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that President Biden signed in a ceremony that was attended by several dozen lawmakers in spite of a pandemic. Following the Senate’s 94 to 1 vote, the House gave its stamp of approval by a 364 to 62 margin.
But Democrats and Republicans are miles apart in looking for agreement on many issues like gun safety and comprehensive immigration reform.
President Biden must also be apprehensively looking at July 31 when the suspension of the Debt Limit ends when Congress will have to either suspend it again as it did in 2019 or raise the ceiling if America is not to default on its debt. As a part of the Obama administration, President Biden is all too aware of the rancor that took place between President Obama and Republicans, some of whom are warning of a repeat.
“It normally takes some concession for any administration to get the debt limit increase… I don’t think you’ll get a debt limit without working with our side on some things we’d like to see,” warned Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.
One view is that President Biden and the Department of Treasury might hold the cards when it comes to debt limit, including the prospect of tucking this away in a reconciliation bill, but still not without disadvantages.”
Wrangling over the debt limit will absorb time and energy while augmenting Republican messaging about the “radical socialist Democrat agenda,” allowing the GOP to score points about Biden initiatives in the aggregate that they cannot score on individually popular items”, writes Ed Kilgore in the Intelligencer.
Also by the same author: US President Biden sends a strong message to allies
The writer is a former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations. He is currently Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai.)
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