President Biden is entering a critical stretch with momentum as he tries to get an ambitious $4 trillion economic agenda passed through Congress.
Biden is rallying Democrats behind a $3.5 trillion budget package as the Treasury Department pumps billions in expanded child tax credit payments to millions of American families, providing an opportunity for Biden to once again tout his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law.
U.S. jobless claims have fallen to pandemic lows, though inflation remains a worry.
Significant hurdles to the budget package and a separate bipartisan infrastructure deal backed by Biden remain, but it was a good week for the White House.
“They turned the key, and the car started,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy for centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “If they had failed to do this it would really be a problem, and there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns along the way.”
Biden often remarks that he has proved the media and other skeptics wrong about his ability to get a bipartisan deal.
“I still have confidence we’re going to be able to get what I proposed and what I’ve agreed to in the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure,” Biden told reporters on Thursday. “There may be some last-minute discussion as to what mechanism is used to pay for each of these items, both the infrastructure package and the human infrastructure package, but I believe we will get it done.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday that the Senate will vote to open debate on the bipartisan infrastructure deal next week.
It’s possible that will be delayed since the bill has yet to be written and senators are haggling over an increase in funding for the IRS that would allow tax collectors to more aggressively go after lost taxes. Republicans are balking at that part of the bill, a significant problem since the provision helps pay for the package.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed to Biden’s long political career on Friday in describing his approach to the hurdles ahead.
“The president is quite familiar with the roller coaster and ups and downs of legislating, having spent 36 years there and even having had some successes over the last few months in working with legislators,” she said.
She also told reporters this week that Biden would “leave the mechanics and the timeline” of the bill up to Schumer.
The two measures give Biden a chance to unite his fractious party, and Democrats will need to rally around the $3.5 trillion package to get it to the White House. A single defection in the Senate will be enough to kill the measure since Republicans will be opposed to it, and Democrats have little margin for error in the House too.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Biden’s old primary rival, helped negotiate the deal and has lent his support, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) touted the resolution this week as “absolutely a progressive victory.”
Centrists who might be repelled by the large price tag have separately held their fire, another reason for the optimism among Democrats.
Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that Biden had a “very good week” because uniting Democrats around the budget bill is a profound challenge.
“I think that the president’s ability to anticipate a $3.5 trillion ambition as a starting point for the Democrats is a significant achievement. It’s like the first day of a campaign. The first day better feel good because things get a lot harder,” he said.
The president has worked to sell the packages to the American people and shore up public support, recently traveling to a swing district in Illinois. Biden’s approval ratings have remained above 50 percent, and his image as a centrist could help sell the massive bill.
At the same time, the hurdles ahead are not limited to the very real difficulties the president and his party still face in getting the infrastructure and larger spending bills through Congress.
The other top Democratic primary of voting rights is stuck, and Biden has shown no real interest in pressuring moderate Senate Democrats to kill the legislative filibuster.
While Biden has been commended by liberals for his quick and decisive action on the popular coronavirus relief package, some progressives have complained he has not done enough to push forward legislation to overhaul the country’s election laws amid a spate of Republican-led state laws restricting voting.
So far that frustration hasn’t turned into open warfare with the Democratic Party, but the danger remains.
“Biden’s biggest challenge is reversion to the mean. His first six months included a lot of wins: seemingly victory over the pandemic, passing a stimulus bill bigger than Obama’s, overwhelmingly positive coverage from a still-obsessed-with-Trump media and Republicans stuck in circular firing squads,” said Bruce Mehlman, assistant secretary of Commerce under former President George W. Bush. “The next six months will be harder.”
Via The Hill