Fight at the Capitol, Part 2

Joe Biden’s spending bills are headed to Congress, where the Senate is indeed managing to strike a compromise. But make no mistake. Nothing is set in stone just yet.

On Jan. 6, Congress became the execution site for American democracy. The mob that stormed the House chamber that day tried to set fire to the pyre that Trumpism built. The American form of government could have gone up in flames, and the frenzied mood gave rise to fearing the worst.

Then, half a year later, during the last week of July, a House select committee appointed to look into the events convened. Police officers tearfully described the most dramatic hours of their lives. Even the most hardened conspiracy theorists heard this testimony.

A few days later, something unseen for many years happened in Congress: Compromise was reached. Democrats and Republicans agreed on the structure of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.* Both events symbolize democracy’s triumph over the polarizing zeal that has been corroding politics in Washington for too long.

One must take a closer look, though, as democracy plays out in the fine print, not the letters of populism writ large. The infrastructure bill is a paper tiger; half the bill’s gigantic cost has been part of the budget for a long time. And even more problematic is the fact that President Joe Biden wants to administer two stimulus programs. Aside from the infrastructure package for tangible objects such as streets, railroads, bridges and harbors, he’s suggesting a second package that costs three times as much, for intangible targets such as social programs, education, preschool and parental leave. To add even more complexity to the issue, the enormous allocation for climate policy was transferred from the tangible infrastructure program to the package of intangible improvements.

Biden Is Keeping His Plan To Administer 2 Stimulus Programs a Secret

One doesn’t need much imagination to guess how willing Republicans are to approve this second package. Biden is keeping his plan to administer the double stimulus a secret, especially since the left wing of his Democratic Party has made its support for the first package dependent on approval of the second one. Congress is facing the perfect logjam, one that is likely to take place in the fall.

Biden, who is increasingly showing a linguistic sloppiness, is clinging to the idea of a Senate full of honorable men and women, as he personally experienced over the last 50 years. By looking deep into their eyes, taking some things and conceding others, Biden had more than enough to strike a compromise. But that Senate is a thing of the past. A bipartisan coalition for the first package was possible because, in classic fashion, a horn of plenty was emptied upon the senators’ voters. The second package, however, is ideologically charged, as it touches on the historic conflict in America’s political landscape, the strong versus the weak state, individual liberty and seemingly egalitarian tendencies versus the ghost of socialism.

Biden knows that he’ll likely only have his first year in office to blot out the memories of his predecessor and to tend to the delicate plant of decency and honesty; it will have to survive the next populist storm. This tender seedling was planted in the last week of July. The president will have to be open to significant compromises in order to keep it from getting trampled again until autumn.

*Editor’s Note: The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed in the Senate Aug. 10 by a vote of 69-30.

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