“No one chose him to be FDR,” the rep said. Abigail Spanberger from Virginia, who is facing a tough re-election campaign, to The New York Times. “They chose him to be normal and stop the chaos.”
Her remarks suggested an indictment with several points: that Biden had entered the White House with a unique mandate, abandoned it for left-wing political aspirations and thus split and paralyzed the democratically controlled Congress.
This accusation of ideological hubris has gained considerable currency since. But it hides a more convincing explanation for democratic suffering: It is difficult to act alone on major national problems with worn-out congressional majorities.
But many others cheered on his calls to lift struggling middle-class families, respond to climate change or temper racial injustice. They included Spanberger himself.
“I want a president who will hear the struggles of parents working to make ends meet … the young adult in debt … the older one rationing his medicine,” Spanberger wrote in his support for Bidens candidacy in March 2020.
During the parliamentary elections, Biden relied on the FDR, while proposing trillions in new domestic spending. He did the same in his speech to Congress in April 2021, which Spanberger praised for his vision of “an America that lives up to its promise of opportunities for all.”
Far from cracking his party, Biden drew almost unanimous support for major early initiatives. At the $ 1.9 trillion U.S. rescue plan, the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the $ 3.5 trillion budget decision that set the stage for his Build Back Better climate and social policy bill, Democratic leaders drew more than 97% of their House members and 100% of their senators. .
This is typical of new presidents. They demand overwhelming party support on top priorities, as the opposition in a highly polarized political system tends to view them as an insult.
It is not always unanimous support. Trump lost three Republicans in the Senate on his push in 2017 to repeal the Affordable Care Act – enough to kill the effort. President Bill Clinton lost six Senate Democrats on his 1993 economic plan, but kept the other 50 to pass it by Vice President Al Gore’s vote.
To give Vice President Kamala Harris the same opportunity, however, Biden must hold all 50 Senate Democrats. One of them, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, represents a constituency that favored Trump by 39 percentage points in 2020.
In theory, Republican support could overcome stray defectors. In terms of infrastructure law and legislation to expand domestic microchip production, Biden has drawn some Republican backing. But in terms of voting rights and Build Back Better – where he has fallen short – it is simply not possible.
Republicans have come to see wider access to ballots as a deadly threat. The GOP even refuses to acknowledge climate change, much less to act to slow it down. It relentlessly opposes tax increases to fund more social spending.
It gives unilateral veto power to all 50 Senate Democrats. At Build Back Better, Manchin has used it.
The fact that 2% of the democratic caucus can oppose the remaining 98% does not mean that the party has split between moderate and conservative factions. This means that the White House is vulnerable to the slightest splinter.
“Democrats are remarkably united on a broad social policy agenda,” said Sarah Binder, a researcher in legislative policy at George Washington University. “It looks like they are broken and divided because of the remarkably slim margins. It’s historically bad that their 50th vote is Joe Manchin from West Virginia.”
Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, who has also used his veto on various points, do not constitute a recognizable ideological faction in any case.
The more conservative Manchin, for example, is willing to raise corporation tax to 25% from 21%; the more idiosyncratic Sinema will not agree to raise it a single point. That makes it harder to make a package that does not increase the federal budget deficit, something Manchin insists on.
Democratic leaders have cut the original Build Back Better outline, in itself smaller than what Biden campaigned for, in half. It’s now not like the Green New Deal from Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the “Medicare for All” plan from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax – none of them have moved to stop it.
So the question is less whether a democratically controlled Congress can pass the agenda of the “radical left,” as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell calls it, than whether it can take any major steps at all to respond to climate change and narrow economic opportunities. .
Manchin clarified that reality with its surprising December announcement stopped negotiations on Build Back Better. For at least one frustrated house moderate, it redirected dissatisfaction from the president’s ambition to West Virginia’s stubborn.
“A Democratic U.S. senator has now summarily walked away from productive negotiations,” Spanberger said in a statement. “It is unacceptable and we can not act as if this moment is the end. Children, families and the future of our planet are counting on us.”