That’s my time in the Bronx, not Joe Biden’s in office. He’s been there 266 days. But my century landmark today seems like an opportunity to take stock of how he’s getting on, as his Presidency enters a critical phase.
Marking the impact of a new President’s first 100 days started with Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933, a very relevant comparison for Biden. Both men inherited an acute crisis and were elected on a promise to solve it. FDR unleashed a blizzard of legislation that became the New Deal. Until now, Biden has been tied-up by COVID, the events of 6th January (which continue to haunt this country) and Afghanistan. Now it’s time for Biden to deliver on domestic reforms which, if they don’t yet match the New Deal, are certainly a step in that direction.
However, Biden’s agenda – and maybe his entire administration – is currently in jeopardy. What’s been described as a Kabuki play, or a game of chicken, is going on in Washington DC, with the President’s plans threatened from all sides. The Republicans and a few reactionary Democrats are set against the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill sponsored by Bernie Sanders and supported by Progressives. There’s general support for a more modest (about $1.2 trillion) “physical infrastructure” bill, but the Progressives say they won’t vote for it unless they get the bigger one. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is trying to choreograph all this by saying to the Progressives, “if we vote for the $1.2 trillion first, I promise then we can vote for the $3.5 trillion and I guarantee it will pass”. But for the Republicans, as I heard one of them say, that’s a bit like giving someone desert, then asking them to eat spinach. The Progressives apparently recognise this and say “let’s pass the spending on people first, then we’ll agree to spending on bridges and roads”. It’s at an impasse and although Pelosi says both packages will be passed this week, that looks like wishful thinking.
Now the plot has thickened, with the Republicans threatening not to allow the government to borrow more money to pay for reforms they portray as a “socialist spending spree”. The knock-on effect of not raising government debt will be that it runs out of money and has to close down, which could happen on Thursday. There’s also talk that it may default on its debts, which would lead to economic meltdown. The threat of government close downs aren’t that unusual here, but they not only risk the wages of civil servants and the things they do, but create an air of chaos, precisely the opposite of Biden’s responsible, fatherly image.
Noone really knows what’s going to happen, but it’s important to note the reforms at stake (more detail here):
- Increase taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals.
- Extend tax credits for low-income families and individuals.
- Tackle corporate tax dodging.
- Enhance health care for those on low incomes and reduce drug prices.
- Fund care for the elderly at home and provide money to carers.
- Universal pre-K/nursery provision for 3 – 4 year-olds.
- Free education at community colleges.
- More money for historically black and minority educational institutions.
- A “pathway to citizenship” for millions of immigrants.
- $300+ billion investment in housing, including an unprecedented $80 billion for public housing.
- Environmental justice and climate change measures.
Call me a miserable, middle-aged reformist, but I think that’s a list worth fighting for. I keep expecting (or hoping) to get a summons to board buses for DC to demand the $3.5 trillion package is passed. But the absence of a popular movement behind Biden could ultimately doom him and – more importantly – the most significant social reforms since FDR. It’s a tragic prospect.