The same shortsighted blunders have been made, a rare opportunity squandered, and Democrats will pay the price.
As January 20th rolled around, we had for the first time since 2009–11 a fully Democratic US government, both chambers of congress (albeit narrowly) controlled by Democrats, and the White House turning blue as well. This was the moment Democrats had been praying for, what they’d wanted more than anything else out of 2020. Sure, it hadn’t happened how they thought it would, with the Senate having been won through a couple of hail Mary Senate runoff wins, Pelosi loosing ground in the house, and the skeletal Democratic Presidential candidate being carried into office thanks to a global pandemic more than anything else; but nonetheless it HAD happened, and this two year window was the space for Democrats to prove that could govern effectively.
Well, so much for all the initial glow, and the surprisingly positive opening bids from Joe Biden in terms of infrastructure packages. We’re now in the heart of an environment where the President and his party have fallen back upon old fallacies about bipartisanship over cold political calculations, showing little willingness to fight for priorities and much willingness to draw out a bipartisan farce. The opening bid from Biden, the American Rescue Plan, was surprisingly ambitions and had genuinely progressive elements of spending within it; nowhere near enough to meet the moment but enough to not get laugd out of the room.
We saw a faint glimmer in this package of all the things optimists had said about pushing a lifelong conservative wheeler dealer to the left in office through grassroots pressure, with the influence of the Sanders campaign and the growing left flank of the Democratic party combining with the urgency of the moment and an acknowledgement of the “too little too slow” approach Democrats took last time they had the governmental trifecta, frittering away their voter’s priorities and being punished at the ballot box as a result, all combined to bring about a more serious approach when it came to spending big on progressive priorities.
We saw a $2.6 trillion package for infrastructure from the Biden administration, one which would, if implemented, be the most ambitious infrastructure effort in potentially living memory, and actually begin to address the crumbling nature of America’s roads, transport, housing, social care, bridges, broadband, and broader social infrastructure. We can $100 billion to go into (sometimes publicly operated) broadband efforts, $387 billion for buildings, schools, housing, $566 billion to turbocharge RND spending and domestic manufacturing, alongside $400 billion for social care, well in excess of $400 billion for transport, billions on water and power, and $363 on a clean energy tax credit (not the ideal approach to the climate crisis but a big deal nonetheless).
Now, it’s been frittered down and throw away in the face of bipartisanship, with how many of these items will actually make it through in the form of a budget reconciliation bill very unclear, with all the chatter being about a bipartisan compromise that is less than a quarter of what was originally on offer, and will do f**k all in terms of addressing the needs of the American people. The bipartisan plan is $550 billion in total, no money for RND, housing/schools, or care, and drastically cut funding for everything else, and a total elimination of the clean energy tax credit. This is partially down to rightwing saboteurs within the Democratic caucus who have made it their mission to ensure the government doesn’t abandon the neoliberal consensus, partly a total lack of effort on the part of the administration to push harder for any of these things to stay in, and partially a toothless approach by the left flank of the party, with Bernie Sanders seemingly making it his mission to defend the indefensible for Biden on anything and everything, from Palestine to infrastructure.
Democrats have to get their act together and pass a genuine package through budget reconciliation, and ideally killing the filibuster to get the rest of their priorities through. They have limited time to prevent a total collapse of their vote in 2022.