Sunday, January 16

Divisions in the Democratic Party threaten Biden’s ambitious social agenda

The last two weeks the United States has lived politically on the razor’s edge. It has seen an operational closure of the Administration and has approached the economic debacle that would represent not raising the debt ceiling, which would make for the first time in its history the country could not meet the payment of its financial obligations. In both cases the crises have ended up being avoided but Congress has only postponed, not solved, the challenges at hand, and the two issues will once again dominate politics in just a few weeks, promising intense negotiations and tensions fired again as the beginning of December approaches.

The time won against the clock, in any case, now gives Joe Biden and the Democrats some leeway to try to solve the problems. internal differences in the party that so far have prevented the president’s ambitious national agenda from being carried out. It is not, as has also been seen in recent weeks, a less monumental challenge than overcoming Republican barriers.

Central to Biden’s agenda is a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure plan that has bipartisan support in Congress to move forward. But the most fundamental nucleus of the Democrat’s project is a more ambitious plan for “human infrastructure” that proposes a profound remodeling and expansion of social coverage in the United States and of environmental regulations to fight it climate change.

That plan, which honors Biden’s campaign promises that aligned him with the progressive wing of his party, includes elements such as universal programs. free preschool education and in higher education at state-funded universities, parental leave and tax credits for parents, assistance for the care of minors and the elderly, housing assistance, reductions in drug prices or the expansion of benefits from Medicare, the public health program for the elderly. , to include coverage such as dental. The initial investment raised was 3.5 trillion dollars in the next decade, an expense that according to the White House would be financed fundamentally with tax hikes higher-income Americans and corporations.

The internal challenge

The big problem that Biden has run into is not only the Republican frontal opposition, which will force the plan to be raised with a mechanism called reconciliation to curb the possibility that the conservatives block it with filibusterism and it would only require a simple majority for approval. The central challenge is that with his meager control in Congress and especially in the Senate, where he has 50 of the 100 senators and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden cannot afford to lose a single vote, and two moderate senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, they reject your plan because of its cost.

That rejection has created a pulse between moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party and, for now, it has been the left that has maintained control. On September 30, the date Nancy Pelosi had set to vote on the infrastructure plan, progressives managed to have the vote postponed until there are guarantees from moderate Democrats that they would support the social and environmental plan. The new date set by Pelosi for the vote is October 31 and Biden himself has aligned himself with the idea that the two initiatives go together.

The mandatary, who has not hidden his frustration With the fact that only two senators from his party are capable of stopping his agenda, he shows signs of optimism and has ensured that “it doesn’t matter when, it doesn’t matter if it is in six minutes, six days or six weeks: we are going to move it forward ”. He is personally participating in the intense negotiations to now try to find common ground between progressives and moderates.


In private meetings he has been willing to lower the cost of the reconciliation law to between 1.9 and 2.2 trillion dollars. That is a figure that Manchin has given indications of being willing to accept (what Sinema is looking for, meanwhile, remains a mystery). It is also a figure that they consider insufficient the progressive congressmen, who are putting on the table proposals that would drop below 3.5 billion but only to between 2.5 and 2.9 billion.

There are also different ideas on how to reduce this bill (which is far from the 7.5 trillion that the federal government allocates in a decade to Defense) without losing the bet to carry out what would be the largest expansion of the welfare state in six decades. Biden, for example, has raised among his commitment options the idea that some of the programs are only offered to people who are below a certain income level and not universally. Pelosi has suggested that many in the party are betting on leaving fewer but fundamental programs in law for transformation. The progressives, meanwhile, what they propose is to keep all the programs but shorten their application time, convinced that they will be so popular that it will be easy to renew them later.

Biden has also spent the last week traveling and sending other members of his Administration to areas of the country that are not Democratic fiefdoms but politically contested to defend his plans and increase citizen support, which in the polls show support for his big bet. It is also a nod to Democratic congressmen facing difficult elections in the 2022 legislature, in which strategists from both parties believe that Republicans will regain control of the Lower House.

Although internal tensions that soared before September 30 persist, the tense tone has weakened somewhat and more pragmatism is palpable within the entire party to carry out Biden’s agenda than would lead Democrats to transformations they have been promising for years. And the president himself on Tuesday in Michigan left his message: “These laws are not left against right or moderate against progressives or anything that pits some Americans against others,” he said. “They are about opportunity versus decline.”

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