Without a deal on his reform and climate agenda, Biden travels to Europe. The endless internal debate among the Democrats is a present for Donald Trump — and dangerous for the world.
Part of Politics 101 is the ability to define one’s own aspirations in a way that makes them easily achievable. This skill is called expectation management, and virtually every member of the German parliament has mastered it — but the American president obviously hasn’t. For months, Joe Biden has been busy pulling back his formerly ambitious reform agenda bit by bit.
What he presented during a press conference at the White House on Thursday is merely a shadow of the sophisticated plans designed to fundamentally change America that he unveiled when he took office. And that’s possibly not even the last word yet.
What is happening right now in Washington is a tantalizing drama. When Biden took office on Jan. 20 , he promised to transform America. He wanted to improve on the blatantly unjust distribution of wealth at least a little bit; he promised poorer Americans better health insurance and announced that high school graduates would no longer have to go into heavy debt in order to be able to receive a decent post-secondary education.
Biden’s Build Back Better plan was supposed to have a budget of $3.5 trillion. But when he stepped into the East Room of the White House on Thursday, after months of negotiations with his own party, to present the framework of his social and climate agenda, it became obvious: at most, only half of that amount will remain — $1.75 trillion.
The Republicans Can Save Their Malicious Remarks
After their president’s appearance, the American people primarily know what they’re not getting: no paid parental leave for three months; no tuition-free community colleges for two years for young Americans; and what’s maybe most outrageous: Democrats couldn’t even agree on forcing the pharmaceutical industry into negotiations with the national health insurance program, Medicare, in order to lower the horrendously high drug prices in the United States.
The Democrats owe all this to two senators, who, due to the razor-thin majority situation in Congress, were temporarily among the most powerful politicians worldwide: Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona and Joe Manchin from West Virginia. They — heavily supported by the pharmaceutical and coal lobby — made sure that, in a painful process, the president’s plans were shredded bit by bit.
This was such a humiliating process for the Democrats, the Republicans were able to refrain from making malicious remarks. All they had to do was sit and enjoy in silence. If the Republicans win the midterm elections in November 2022, they can thank Sinema and Manchin for that.
But Biden is to blame for this debacle too. As a longtime senator, he presented himself as someone possessing the necessary skill set and foresight to maneuver even difficult legislative packages through Congress. Regarding his plans, he has quite obviously overreached. He wanted to fundamentally transform the country like Franklin D. Roosevelt did with his New Deal. Unfortunately, Biden doesn’t have a healthy majority in Congress behind him, as Roosevelt had in the 1930s.
At Best, Biden Is a Solid Craftsman
From the get-go, it was an ambitious but also a risky endeavor to promote a social democratic reform program, which immediately gets vilified as a precursor of communism in the U.S. Under these circumstances, even a charismatic political spellbinder would have found it difficult to succeed — but Biden is, at best, a decent political craftsman. And so he didn’t emerge a glorious winner from the negotiations, but a man who bit off more than he could chew.
This is all the more sad, as even Biden’s curtailed reform agenda is going to help a lot of Americans. Parents will have the right to a day care slot; senior citizens will get subsidies toward home care, so that they don’t have to prematurely move to a retirement home.* Additionally, Biden’s plan incorporates the investment of more than $500 billion into the advancement of environmentally friendly energy. That’s solid, but likely not comprehensive enough to gain back the voters that Democrats have recently lost to Donald Trump.
*Editor’s Note: As the Build Back Better plan had not passed as of publication date, it’s premature to say what will be in it.