Biden and the progressives

I’m not sure what to make of President Biden.  He says good things about labor rights, economic inequality, high drug prices and curbing monopoly power.  He listens to progressives and has appointed progressives to important positions in his administration.

The economic legislation he has proposed will materially benefit the majority of Americans.  More importantly, unlike Presidents Obama and Clinton, he hasn’t proposed anything that will be actively harmful, such as deregulating the finance industry or unconditionally bailing out crooked Wall Street financiers.

The question is my mind is: Does he really mean what he says?  Or is he, like Obama and Clinton, merely setting up a plausible excuse for failure?

The economic legislation he originally proposed was an omnibus bill to build needed infrastructure, invest in “human capital” and expand the welfare state.  To get it passed, he and the Democratic leaders in Congress agreed to split the infrastructure part from the welfare part, but on condition that the infrastructure bill wouldn’t be enacted unless the Build Back Better welfare bill also was enacted.

Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were two of the Democrats who pledged to support the Build Back Better bill.  But now they’re gone back on their word and now oppose the bill.  My morning newspaper reported that President Biden is trying to find out what they would be willing to settle for.

But what is the point of negotiating with people who won’t keep their word?

If Lyndon Johnson had been President or Senate Majority Leader, Manchin and Sinema would be stripped of their committee assignments, no bills they introduced for the benefit of their states would come up for a vote and they would be cut off from support by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—not just because they opposed their party’s program, but because they broke their word.

Another key test for President Biden is the filibuster.  A majority in the Senate has the power to change the rules so that laws can be enacted with 51 votes (or 50 plus the Vice President’s vote).  If the filibuster isn’t broken, the Democasts won’t be able to pass their voting rights act, Republican state legislatures will be able to rig the election laws and Democrats will likely lose the 2022 midterm elections.

One reasonable change in the filibuster is to restore it to its original meaning, which was unlimited debate.  Require those who want to delay a vote to go on the floor and keep talking, rather than just register their opposition and go home.  If President Biden and the Democratic leadership won’t even do that, they are not serious.

The test of the Biden administration is whether he will use all his lawful powers to enact his program.  The test results will be soon be in.

The test of progressive Democrats is whether they will settle for something inadequate.  There are indications that, this time around, they won’t.  This would be a new and important turning point for the future of the party.


If you want to follow the politics of the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better bill, I recommend you check out the Naked Capitalism web site, especially the morning Links and the weekday afternoon Water Cooler.  But the following links provide good analysis.

The interlocking crises that will shape the future of the Biden Presidency by Adam Tooze for Chartbook.

In deep red West Virginia, Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending proposal is immensely popular by Zack Harold for The Guardian.  [Hat tip to Gene Zitver]

$3.5 Trillion Is Not a Lot of Money by Eric Levitz for New York magazine.  You should think of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill as $350 billion a year.

Reconciling the Reconciliation Bill: a Preview by Jack Rasmus.

Interlocking Crises in Congress Have Simple Solutions by David Dayen for The American Prospect.

Kill the Bill by Josh Marshall for The Washington Monthly.  Marshall is usually considered a voice of moderation.

Why progressives really may kill the bill by Sam Stein for Politico.

Progressives Defy House Leadership on Vote on Biden $1.5 Trillion “Highway” Bill, Hold Line on Deal for $3.5 Trillion Package on Social Services and Climate Change Spending by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  [Added 10/1/2010]

So How Far Will Progressives Retreat to Get a Version of Biden;s “Build Back Better” Program? by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism [Added 10/4/2021]

This Is a Battle Between What People Need & What Money Wants – ‘How’s That Going to End?’ by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.  [Added 10/7/2021]

Image via Birds, Books and…

Note: I made additions and revisions shortly after the original post.

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