Voices: Joe Biden’s agenda is on life support

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El presidente Biden cuestiona los comentarios hechos por los funcionarios saudíes cuando aterriza de regreso en la Casa Blanca el sábado por la noche. (Getty Images)
El presidente Biden cuestiona los comentarios hechos por los funcionarios saudíes cuando aterriza de regreso en la Casa Blanca el sábado por la noche. (Getty Images)

When Joe Biden returns to Washington, he may wish he had stayed in the Middle East. His foreign trip might have been rocky, but his domestic political agenda risks complete annihilation.

Let’s recap. Last Wednesday, Biden’s plans were dealt a massive body blow when the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that inflation rose 9.1 per cent in the past 12 months, putting it at a 40-year high. The disastrous inflation figure was certain to scare Senator Joe Manchin, the mercurial conservative Democrat from West Virginia, who has repeatedly cited his concern about inflation as one of the major reasons for unilaterally killing the president’s mammoth spending package, Build Back Better.

And as soon as the data dropped, Senate Democrats started to tailor their conversations with reporters for an audience of Capitol Hill’s most famous houseboat resident.

There had lately been rumblings that Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer might resurrect a significantly scaled-down version of the legislation that would focus on prescription drug pricing, tax increases on the wealthy, combating climate change and continuing subsidies for Obamacare. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden – who has worked around the clock to mollify Manchin – claimed rather unconvincingly that the numbers should somehow make the bill more appealing.

“I think, for example, on energy, the recent numbers make our argument for our bill,” he told your reporter on Thursday. The Consumer Price Index report showed that the gasoline index alone jumped 11.2 per cent in the past month; this, Wyden said, “makes the case” for the package’s proposal to promote long-term renewable energy, the logic being that it would make the US less dependent on fossil fuels.

Similarly, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told reporters on Wednesday that it was important to differentiate which types of government action could exacerbate inflation and which temper it. “it’s important to understand which changes aggregate inflation,” she said, “and which ones don’t. When spending is to get more workers into the workforce, for example, like universal childcare, and it’s fully paid for by taxes on the rich – the consequences of that are not inflationary.”

All of this sounded like Democrats were punching against the wind, fighting in vain to get Manchin in their corner and keep him there. Nevertheless, Manchin’s concerns persisted. And on Thursday, in what must have felt like a gut-punch, The Washington Post reported that his reservations about inflation were too much and that he couldn’t support tax increases on the wealthy or new climate provisions. The New York Times reported that Democratic staffers shed tears upon hearing the news.

But while Democrats’ sorrow may have lasted the night, joy (at least hope) cameth in the morning as Manchin told WV Metro News’s talk host Hoppy Kercheval that he wanted a pause. “I said, ‘Chuck, can we just wait until the inflation figures come out in July? Until basically the Fed rate, the reserve, are they gonna raise interest?’” he said.

By the end of the day, Biden said that if the Senate would not act on climate change, he would take executive action. But he notably did not mention Manchin’s name. As Jeff Stein of The Washington Post has reported, during the dog days of Build Back Better negotiations last December, the White House released a statement that mentioned Manchin despite his protests, which apparently led to him killing negotiations.

Biden’s latest statement may have sounded like a threat. But in truth, it was an admission that he simply doesn’t have that many cards left to play. Any executive orders he might take could easily be rolled back by a future Republican president, and codified law has a better chance of surviving in the courts than unilateral executive action.

For now, Biden’s agenda is not completely dead, but it’s certainly on life support.

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