Bidens entire presidential agenda rests on the Expansive Spending Bill

Publish Date : 2021-09-19

Bidens entire presidential agenda rests on the Expansive Spending Bill

WASHINGTON — No president has ever packed as much of his agenda, domestic and foreign, into a single bill as President Biden has with his $3.5 trillion spending plan that Democrats are trying to debate through Congress over the next six weeks.

The bill combines key initiatives on the economy, education, social welfare, climate change and foreign policy, most of which are funded by an extensive tax code rewrite, aiming to bring in trillions from corporations and the rich. That stacking of priorities has raised the stakes for a president resting his ambitions on a bill that could fail over the smallest of intraparty disputes.

If successful, Biden's sweeping efforts could result in a decisive victory for the presidency that gave Democrats a decades-long campaign to expand the federal government to combat social problems and spread the benefits of economic growth to workers, striking a fatal blow to President Ronald Reagan's government's restrictive philosophy that had has largely defined American politics since the 1980s.

But as Democrats look further, the weight of Biden's progressive push could cause it to collapse, leaving the party empty-handed, with the president's top priorities unfulfilled. Some progressives fear the watered-down version of the bill could fail to deliver on party promises and undermine its case for a more active government. Some moderates worry that spending too much could hurt Democrats, especially those in more conservative districts, their seats in the 2022 midterm elections, removing party control in Congress.

The bill, which Democrats are trying to pass and without Republican support, contains much of Biden's vision of overhauling the economy in hopes of reducing inequality and building a more vibrant middle class. But the provisions go beyond economics.

Democrats hope the package will pave the way to citizenship for as many as eight million undocumented immigrants, make it easier for workers to form unions, and lower the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly. They want to secure kindergartens and community colleges for every American, enhance the nation's strategic competitiveness with China and stake an aggressive leadership role in global efforts to combat climate change and corporate tax avoidance.

The plan includes major tax cuts for the poor and middle class, efforts to reduce child care costs and expand access to home health care for older and disabled Americans and create the first federally guaranteed paid leave for American workers.

It's almost as if President Franklin D. Roosevelt had incorporated his entire New Deal into one law, or if President Lyndon B. Johnson had done the same with his Great Society, instead of pushing through individual components over several years.

"The president is on the cusp of a major expansion in public education, one of the largest expansions of the social safety net, the largest investment in climate change mitigation" and an overhaul in labor law and drug prices, said Patrick Gaspard, a former Obama administration official who is now a president of the Liberal Center for American Progress in Washington.

“Each of these things is important in its respective constituent parts,” he said, “but all in all, I think, it speaks of the tremendous opportunity we have — this once-in-a-generation opportunity to set a great course for us. create growth for all, including and especially those most vulnerable in this economy.”

If those efforts are successful, Biden will achieve much of what he campaigned for in one fell swoop. Observers say he will bring power to global summits in October and November meant to galvanize the world around a transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels and end the use of offshore havens that companies have long used to evade taxes.

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White House officials say that the breadth of the program in the package forms a unified vision for the United States' domestic economy and its place in the world, and that the boards serve as a kind of coalition glue — a something for everyone approach that makes it difficult to throw away parts of the plans in negotiations, even if they do. proved controversial.

But the sheer scope of its content has opened up divisions among Democrats on multiple fronts, as Biden was unable to lose a single vote in the Senate and no more than three votes in the House.

Centrists and progressives have clashed over the size of spending in the law and the scale and details of the tax hikes Biden wants to use to help offset the costs. They are divided over the price of prescription drugs, the generosity of tax credits for the poor, the aggressiveness of key measures to accelerate the transition to a low-emissions energy sector and more.

Even things that are not a top priority for Mr Biden have opened a rift. On Friday, one of the party's most outspoken progressives, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, took aim at the top priorities of some of the top Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer, saying he would resist efforts to completely lift the reduction limit for the state. and a local property tax that would help high-income people in high-tax areas.

If Biden's party can't find consensus on those issues and the bill dies, the president will have little immediate avenue to advance nearly any of those priorities. Outside of a hard-fought victory on a bipartisan infrastructure package – which the Senate has approved but has not yet approved of the House of Representatives – Biden has barely won Republican acceptance of his proposal. Its economic, education and climate agenda, and perhaps even additional efforts to rebuild domestic supply chains and counter China, could be blocked by Republicans under current Senate rules for most legislation.

Republicans say the breadth of the bill shows that Democrats are trying to drastically change national policy without full debate on individual proposals.

Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, complained repeatedly this week that Republicans and conservatives "believe that our government is wasting so much on killing so many American jobs."

Biden's plan will "connect a new generation of poor people to government dependency," he said.

Biden administration officials said the contents of the bill were neither secretive nor socialist. They said the plan aligns with the proposals Biden put forward in the 2020 campaign, in his first budget request and in speeches to a joint session of Congress.

“There is a clear line for everything we advance,” Brian Deese, who heads the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview, “from investing in education, to winning the clean energy economy of the future to restoring equity in the tax code, which connects how we make ourselves globally competitive in the next quarter of the 21st century.”

Ted Kaufman, Biden's longtime aide who helped lead his presidential transition team, says the essence of the bill goes further back: to a set of newsprint flyers sent out by campaign volunteers across Delaware in 1972, when Biden won a disappointing Senate victory. .

"He's running because he wants to do all these things," said Kaufman, both during his 1972 election and during his presidential campaign last year. But tackling so many things at once has exposed divisions among congressional Democrats, including this week, when Biden's bid to reduce the cost of prescription drugs failed in a House committee vote after three Democrats joined Republicans in disagreement.

Party leaders are trying to balance the demands of liberals who have seen the $3.5 trillion bill insufficient for the nation's problems and moderates, such as Senators Kyrsten Cinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who have balked at the overall cost and some of the provisions. taxes and expenses.

Opinion polls show most of the bill fits voters, including independents and some Republicans. Margie Omero, a principal at Democratic polling firm GBAO, which has polled the bill for progressives, said the package's ambitions were a selling point that Democrats should emphasize in contrast to Republicans in midterm elections.

"People feel the country is going through a lot of crises, and we need to take action," he said.

As they fight over the bill's final costs and taxation rate, Democrats have tried to find savings without ditching the entire program — by reducing spending on home health care, for example, instead of dropping it or other provisions altogether.

Progressive groups say it is an excuse for lawmakers not to reduce the size of the effort further, concerned that the scaled-down program could undermine the case for broad government intervention to solve the problem.

“If the bill goes the way it is now and we get a big change in the progressiveness of the tax code, we build some serious infrastructure for, like, universal child care in this country, and we really start to make progress towards a green economy, this will be a historic piece. from the law,” said Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, which has pushed governments to focus on shared prosperity that advances racial equality.

If the bill is reduced, he said, Biden is risking "a situation where we don't spend enough money on anything to do well."

"You don't want half of the childcare system and a bit of greening the economy in two sectors," he added. "You really don't want to do things badly."

Administration officials insist that even if the bill fails completely, other efforts by Biden, including executive action and bipartisan action now awaiting House approval after Senate clearing, have reaffirmed the United States' leadership in climate, competitiveness and confrontation with China. In some areas, however, Biden has little recourse, such as opening the path to citizenship for immigrants brought into the country as children.

For now, the president continues to openly set high hopes for a bill that his aides say is fundamental to demonstrating that a democratic government can deliver clear and tangible benefits to its people.

"This is our moment to prove to the American people that their government works for them, not just for the big companies and those at the top," Biden said on Thursday. He added, “This is an opportunity to be the nation we know we can be.”

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