President Joe Biden’s highly anticipated first speech as president to a joint session of Congress last week turned out to be a disappointment, even to many Democrats. It was dominated by Biden’s promises of benefits from his proposed new government spending programs and entitlements. These include his $2.3 trillion “infrastructure” proposal, as well as a newly announced $1.8 trillion American Family Plan.
The third installment of Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar federal spending splurge would vastly expand federal spending on education, increase premium subsidies for Obamacare health insurance policies, and make permanent some of the “temporary” spending increases on social welfare programs that Biden insisted on including in his bloated $1.9 Covid relief program.
Each of Biden’s three proposals have been stuffed with items which have languished on the progressive-liberal wish list for many years. In each case, Biden and his administration have deliberately understated their costs and overestimated their expected benefits to the American people. Furthermore, Biden has seriously overestimated the amount of new tax revenue that would be generated from the long list of tax rate increases. The shortfall would likely result in a sizable addition to the federal deficit.
In his speech to Congress, Biden reiterated his claim that the new taxes and rate increases he is proposing will impact only those taxpayers earning $400,000 a year or more, ignoring the fact that they would stifle new business investments in the US economy and make American-based companies less competitive in the international marketplace. Conservatives have also pointed out that these higher taxes on businesses will inevitably be passed along to lower and middle families in the form of slower wage growth, sharply higher consumer prices for all kinds of goods — from electricity to gas at the pump to food — and reduced income from stocks held in their 401-K retirement accounts.
Biden’s lackluster presentation of the hour-long speech was almost as disappointing as its uninspiring content. It contained no exciting new ideas and instead relied heavily on familiar liberal-progressive talking points from last year’s presidential campaign.
Biden did prove that at age 78, he is still capable of reading a long, well-rehearsed speech from a teleprompter with only a few minor verbal flubs, which he quickly corrected, However, a focus group of 15 University of Southern California students who watched the speech and mostly support Biden’s programs told pollster Frank Lutz that they were deeply disappointed. Biden’s delivery lacked the vibrance and vitality needed to inspire the nation, which apparently was no surprise.
Despite being widely promoted in advance by the mainstream media, Biden’s first speech to Congress attracted a much smaller prime time television audience (26.9 million to 47.7 million viewers) than President Trump’s first speech to Congress in 2017. Biden’s delivery was so boring that at times it put Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who was a member of the live audience in the chamber of the House of Representatives, to sleep.
A VIGOROUS REPUBLICAN RESPONSE
On the other hand, the Republican rebuttal to Biden’s speech, delivered by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, was so effective that he immediately drew bitter, racially tinged criticism from progressive activists on social media and some elected Democrats who were embarrassed by the sharp contrast in the substance and delivery of the two speeches, which were broadcast back-to-back to the same national television audience.
Scott’s moving narrative about his personal experiences in overcoming racial discrimination to become a black senator from South Carolina, which was the cradle of the Civil War Confederacy, prompted his critics on Twitter to label him, “Uncle Tim,” a variation of the epithet “Uncle Tom” traditionally applied to black traitors to their race.
Gary O’Connor, the chairman of the Lamar County Democrat organization in Texas, said, “I had hoped Scott might show some common sense, but it seems clear he is little more than an oreo [cookie, which is black on the outside and white on the inside] with no real principles.”
Texas Republican Governor Gregg Abbott was outraged by the comment. He immediately came to Scott’s defense, tweeting, “This is disgusting, hateful, and completely unacceptable. O’Connor must apologize to Senator Tim Scott and step down immediately.” Texas GOP Congressman Pat Fallon also demanded an apology, adding, “I call on both the Democratic Party of Texas and the NAACP to condemn these words, and the state party should take swift action to censure him [O’Connor].”
Scott’s critics preferred to insult him rather than try to respond to the strong case he made in rebuttal to Biden. Scott rejected the anti-American leftist contention — which Biden repeated — that this country is tainted by systemic racism, and reaffirmed instead the legitimacy of historic American values. He criticized Biden’s anti-police rhetoric, while bemoaning the refusal by congressional Democrats last year to cooperate in his attempt to forge a bipartisan consensus on legislation to implement sensible policing reforms. Scott also condemned Biden and his fellow Democrats for deliberately lying about the recently passed election reform legislation in Georgia, and denied their contention that Republicans are attempting to lead this country into a second “Jim Crow” era of racial discrimination.
The college students in Lutz’s focus group said they had been impressed by Scott’s obvious sincerity, the power of his life story — which had enabled his grandfather, who lived to the age of 94, to see his family go from picking cotton to serving in Congress — and even the religious and spiritual aspects of Scott’s approach to partisan politics.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Scott’s rebuttal to Biden, “the best follow-up to a presidential address to a joint session of Congress that I have ever seen.”
Gingrich criticized Biden for delivery a “tired, droning, boring recitation,” as well as Vice President Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their unnecessary “virtual signaling” to fellow Democrats by wearing masks in the House chamber, even though all of them have been vaccinated. The former GOP Speaker also suggested that Biden’s uninspiring speech had probably confirmed the prior impressions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi — “that the Biden administration is incompetent, timid and tired.”
Gingrich predicted that Scott’s impressive performance before a national television audience, condemning “big-spending, big-government liberalism,” and projecting a positive, pro-American Republican message, will likely turn him into one of the party’s fastest rising national stars.
THE RETURN OF “BIG GOVERNMENT”
Conservative commentator Charles Hurt, writing in the Washington Times, was willing to give Biden some credit for speaking openly in last week’s speech in support of big government.
The president made the startling declaration near the close of his speech that he believes that, “We the people are the government,” implying that by definition, the federal government can do no wrong. In the same speech, Biden adopted the radical anti-American Black Lives Matter narrative, by identifying as “the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland today: White supremacy is terrorism!” He called upon the American people “to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systematic racism in our criminal justice system and enact police reform in George Floyd’s name.”
Biden also tacked onto the end of his speech a laundry list of radical liberal domestic policy proposals, ranging from strengthening gun control laws by chipping away at Second Amendment’s guarantees, to passing new “gender equality” legislation, to lowering health care and prescription drug costs, to immigration reform — which, in liberal-speak, is synonymous with opening the southern border with Mexico — and the old favorite, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. All these liberal-populist measures have been proposed many times in recent years, but none of them ever came close to generating enough bipartisan support to make it through both houses of Congress and onto the president’s desk for signature into law.
Biden also took another victory lap, claiming full credit for the progress being made against the pandemic while still refusing to acknowledging the key role played by Trump and his administration. First, it reacted effectively to control the initial outbreak. Then it launched Operation Warp Speed, a crash program to develop and mass produce at least three effective vaccines to date, much faster than any of the experts initially thought possible.
BIDEN ENDORSES “THE AMERICAN IDEA”
During his speech, Biden probably made many of his anti-American progressive supporters uncomfortable with his endorsement of the traditional concept of America as “an idea, the most unique idea” in history. “We are created, all of us equal. It is who we are, and we cannot walk away from that principle,” he said. Biden then tried to use that idea to justify his dangerously weak response to increasingly open aggression against America and its allies from Russia and China, in the form of military intimidation, cyberattacks and unfair trade practices.
Biden boasted about his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, over the objections of his military advisors, as well as his resumption of the Obama-era policy of appeasement toward Iran, while ignoring Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal and its support for Islamic terrorism. Both are likely to result in serious foreign policy and national security problems down the road.
But foreign policy concerns were little more than an afterthought in Biden’s speech, which was primarily devoted to his arguments in support of the two big spending bills he has proposed to Congress.
Biden repeated his administration’s now familiar talking points for his so-called “American Jobs Plan,” and he emphasized the benefits from the traditional infrastructure projects — which actually account for only about 30% of all the spending in the current proposal. The bulk of the $2.2 billion in the bill would be spent on a grab bag of liberal priorities which have little if any direct connection to improving the deteriorating infrastructure across the country today. The rest of the money would be spent on federal subsidies for at-home child and elderly care, and a variety of green energy initiatives to phase out the use of fossil fuels.
BIDEN’S FOUR-POINT FAMILY PLAN
Biden then laid out the four key elements of his newly unveiled “American Families Plan.” Simply put, it is based on the liberal idea that the best way to fix all of America’s most pressing educational, child-rearing and family problems is by throwing more federal money at them.
The first element is a dramatic expansion of free public education, calling for two years of pre-school education for every three- and four-year-old, and two years of free community college education for every high school graduate, while ignoring the many other problems with American public-school systems, including the lack of parental choice. Similarly, Biden believes that giving government money to parents to pay for child care is the best way to help lower- and middle-income families raise their children.
The president also proposes giving parents $3,000 per year for every child under the age of six, and $3,600 for each older child, in the hope that that alone would cut the rate of childhood poverty in this country by half overnight. Finally, Biden would provide every worker in the country with 12 weeks of paid medical leave, presumably at the expense of America’s taxpayers.
Both Biden plans assume that the huge amount of additional federal spending they would require would be largely funded by much higher tax rates and new levies imposed on the wealthiest of Americans. The Democrats’ Plan B to cover the likely shortfall in new tax revenues is to continue borrowing trillions of dollars from China and other international investors until their faith in the ability of the US economy to pay them back is undermined. But by the time the huge accumulated national debt comes due, Biden and his allies will likely be long out of office, and it will become somebody else’s problem to solve.
MAINSTREAM MEDIA STILL COVERING FOR BIDEN
Normally, one would expect the mainstream media to blow the whistle on such dishonest and irresponsible public spending programs. But the most major news outlets have yet to recover from the damage to their journalistic standards of fair play and honest reporting after four years of deliberately abandoning those principles as part of an all-out effort to help Democrats get rid with Donald Trump, whatever it took.
As the final part of that effort, they eagerly conspired to shield then-candidate Joe Biden from all of forms of serious journalistic scrutiny. Even after Biden won the November election, the mainstream media continued to protect his public image by exempting him from any serious questioning at during his rare public appearances. After Biden took office, the media continued to accept and pass along White House news handouts at face value, as well as improbable explanations by his press secretary of Biden’s still frequent verbal gaffes.
The major media outlets could hardly put Biden and his policies under much closer scrutiny now without implicitly admitting they had deliberately fudged their coverage before the election as part of their informal conspiracy to destroy Trump. In fact, the coverup of that conspiracy had to continue to discredit the efforts of Trump supporters, as well as a handful of still honest reporters attempting to expose the truth.
One hundred days into his presidency, it is now clear that Biden is a figurehead president whose policies are being dictated by a coalition of progressive activists and dangerous radicals with nothing but contempt for the principles and traditions of American democracy. During last year’s presidential campaign, Biden and Democrat party leaders sold their political souls to these progressive devils in return for their promise to help defeat Trump.
Now the radical progressives are collecting on that promise. Biden and Democrat congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have to support the socialist-inspired anti-American progressive agenda whether they really believe in it or not. They know that their majority control over the House and Senate is so fragile that they simply can’t afford to risk fracturing it over any ideological issue.
TALKING OUT OF BOTH SIDES OF HIS MOUTH
It wasn’t pretty to watch Biden being forced to talk out of both sides of his mouth, as he was doing in last week’s speech. He talked about reunifying America while rejecting any serious Republican input into his legislative proposals, or suggested compromises.
Biden talked about his humanitarian concern for the Central American migrants who were stopped from crossing the border by Trump’s effective policies. But even though he had been warned, Biden claimed to have been taken by surprise when his well-publicized haste to end those Trump policies triggered an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied minors crossing over into America and creating a brand-new humanitarian crisis along the border.
At one point in last week’s speech, Biden said about local police, “The vast majority [of] men and women wearing the uniform and a badge serve our communities and they serve them honorably. I know them.” Just two paragraphs later, Biden implicitly called the country’s local police officers responsible for the need “to root out systematic racism that plagues America.” Yet the mainstream media failed to highlight this clear contradiction in the president’s message.
One might be tempted to argue that these contradictions, and what political principles Biden really believes in, if any, are not important. He may merely be saying whatever he must to keep progressive Democrats in line to protect his fragile control over Congress and pass his legislative agenda.
CAN DEMOCRAT UNITY HOLD?
But the challenge for Democrats in maintaining that unity is sure to become more difficult as the twin national health and economic emergency due to the pandemic subside, and hatred of Donald Trump, their initial common enemy, slowly fades from their memories.
It was relatively easy for the Democrats to remain unified behind Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill, and push it through the Senate using reconciliation rules with all 50 Democrat votes — because the virus was still seen as a threat, lockdowns were still in place, and there was something for every Democrat to like in Biden’s so-called American Rescue Plan. For Biden’s next two spending plans, the challenge of keeping all 50 Democrats senators and almost all Democrats in the House happy will become tougher.
It is also cold comfort for Biden’s moderate supporters, both Democrat and Republican, to tell themselves that the president doesn’t really believe much of the radical liberal rhetoric he has been repeating since taking office, or to admit that Biden is not really in control of his own legislative agenda. From a generic Republican point of view, a lot of damage has already been done to the health of the American economy and the unity of our society by Biden’s irresponsible policies and contradictory rhetoric.
Even the most moderate of Republican senators, Maine’s Susan Collins, has come out in recent days against the Democrat House proposal to admit the District of Columbia as the 51st state of the Union, which would give the Democrats two more safe seats in the Senate. She has challenged key aspects of Biden’s infrastructure bill, such as raising the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent. Collins also said, “I don’t think it makes sense to spend more money on electric vehicles than roads, bridges, seaports, airports, and waterways combined.”
While Biden has already said — after Democrat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia declared his opposition to any corporate tax hike beyond 25 percent — that he would to be willing to compromise on that point, it is hard to see how he could maintain the support of all the Senate Democrats pushing for the goals of the Green New Deal, while giving in to Collins’ complaint about the amount of money he is willing to spend to promote electric cars.
Manchin is also no longer the only Democrat senator on the record in favor of a compromise with Republicans on the infrastructure bill. After a group of moderate Republicans, led by West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, came out last week with an infrastructure proposal which would cost $568 billion, Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat senator from New Hampshire, told Yahoo Finance that she would also like to see a bipartisan deal negotiated with Republicans on infrastructure that could be paid for by a variety of funding sources, other than by hiking the corporate tax hike and the capital gains tax that Biden has proposed.
MCCONNELL LEADING THE CRITICISM
Senate Minority Leader McConnell had previously dismissed Biden’s original $2.3 trillion infrastructure package as “another multitrillion-dollar smorgasbord of liberal social engineering,” and accused Democrats of “pretty brazen misdirection” by trying to sell the bill as “a serious effort to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.” He also accused Democrats and the Biden administration of trying to implement their extreme liberal campaign promises without a sufficient electoral mandate from the voters.
On Monday, after Biden added his $1.8 trillion American Family Plan to his original infrastructure proposal, McConnell went even further. While suggesting that Republicans would be “open to doing a roughly $600 billion package [with Democrats] which deals with what all of us agree is infrastructure,” he predicted, “I don’t think there will be any Republican support, none, zero, for the [combined] $4.1 trillion grab bag which has infrastructure in it, but a whole lot of other stuff.”
McConnell also declared that Republicans are not willing “to revisit the 2017 tax bill” and reject Biden’s proposal to pay for his spending packages by rolling back President Trump’s tax cuts.
TOO LATE FOR BIDEN TO TURN BACK
Biden and Democrat leaders in Congress also appear to be unwilling at this point to turn back from the political course they took in February, when they publicly rejected an offer from 10 Senate Republicans to compromise on the Covid relief bill, and chose to go-it-alone by passing it without any GOP support.
Many Democrats also feel that they do not have enough time to spend months negotiating such compromises with Republicans, because their current razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate will be very much at risk during the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. That is why Democrats are pushing hard to pass whatever liberal legislation they can now, before their fragile party unity fractures, or the outcome of the 2022 midterms closes their window of opportunity. They are also hoping that if Biden’s massive spending proposals are passed quickly enough, they will boost the economy in time to help Democrat candidates next November when voters go to the polls.
Democrat unity is already starting to fray. Leading progressives, such as New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, complained during a recent virtual town hall for voters in her district that she found Biden’s legislative agenda to be inadequate.
AOC conceded that Biden’s early accomplishments as president, “definitely exceeded expectations that progressives had.” But then she added, “I do think that the [$2.3 trillion] infrastructure plan is too small… I think that [Biden’s] vision was right. I think that what he advanced as some of these key goals were the right ones and they were admirable ones, but I have real concerns that the actual dollars and cents and programmatic allocations in the bill don’t meet the ambition of that vision of what’s being sold.”
Progressives like AOC are starting to demand more progress toward their radical legislative goals, including eliminating the Senate filibuster, packing the Supreme Court with liberal judges, and implementing the Green New Deal, than Biden may be able to deliver without risking the support of moderate Democrat senators, such as Manchin, Shaheen, and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema.
DEMOCRAT FEARS OF MIDTERM LOSSES
Democrats are also fearful that the outcome of next year’s midterm election will result in the loss of their current majority control over at least one if not both houses of Congress. It wouldn’t take much — the Senate is already split 50-50, with Vice President Harris supplying the Democrats with the tiebreaker. The Democrat majority in the House is already so thin that an electoral swing of just a half dozen seats could easily tip it back into Republican control.
A few Democrat House seats will switch to Republicans simply because of the results of the 2020 census and the resulting loss of congressional districts in Democrat-controlled states, such as California and New York, to Republican-controlled states, such as Florida and Texas. Republican-dominated state legislatures will also be in control of the process of reapportioning the congressional districts in most states, giving the GOP additional opportunities to pick up House seats.
In addition, more than half a dozen Democrats representing competitive congressional districts around the country have already announced, or are soon expected to announce, their plans to retire or run for another elective office next year, putting their current House seats up for grabs. House Democrats who have announced their retirement include Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Filemon Vela Jr. of Texas and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona. Tim Ryan of Illinois plans to run for the Senate. Charlie Crist of Florida is expected to announce that he will be running for governor, and both Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Stephanie Murphy of Florida are also said to be considering runs for higher office.
Historical trends also predict Democrat congressional losses in the 2020 midterm election. Usually, the party which does not control the White House picks up at least a few House seats in the next midterm election. This was especially true for Democrat presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whose ambitious legislative initiatives were seen by many voters as going too far, prompting massive losses for House Democrats in the midterm elections of 1994 and 2010. Biden’s efforts to pass three hugely expensive liberal spending programs may risk the same kind of voter backlash against the Democrats in 2022.
MCCONNELL’S FIRST 100-DAY REPORT CARD
Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also been sounding more confident. Last week, just hours before Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress, the Kentucky Republican took to the Senate floor to blast Biden’s record during his first 100 days in office.
“President Biden pledged he would be ‘A president for all Americans’ with plans to repair, restore and heal,” McConnell began. “But the first hundred days have left much to be desired. Over a few short months, the Biden administration seems to have given up on selling actual unity in favor of catnip for their liberal base, covered with a hefty coat of false advertising.”
Referring to GOP prospects for a big win the 2022 midterm election, McConnell said, “Behind President Biden’s familiar face, it’s like the most radical Washington Democrats have been handed the keys, and they’re trying to speed as far left as they can possibly go before American voters ask for their car back.”
He then picked apart Biden’s first 100-day record, issue by issue, starting with immigration. “Democrats have decidedly avoided taking ownership of the results of their own campaign rhetoric on immigration. Reckless mixed messaging has come home to roost in the form of a humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border. Yet through it all, the White House’s foremost concern seems to have been to avoid calling this what it is: a crisis,” McConnell said.
McConnell also blasted Biden for being too slow in loosening lockdown rules in reaction to the substantial progress that has already been made against the pandemic through the vaccination of a growing segment of the American people. He noted that the administration “continues to issue directives that are strangely out of step with the science,” as well as guidance from its own CDC, which has recently declared masks to be unnecessary in many outdoor settings, and reduced its requirements for social distancing in schools.
On the foreign policy front, McConnell criticized Biden for ordering “a hasty total withdrawal from Afghanistan,” and for failing to respond to the growing challenges from Russia and China.
McConnell also blasted Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, accusing the president of misleading the public about where it would put much of its funding. “It’s being sold as a serious effort to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure,” he said. “It’s a pretty brazen misdirection. At both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Democrats have chosen to live in an alternate universe where both the campaign promises they made and the mandate the American people delivered were completely different than what happened here on planet Earth.”
Summing up Biden’s first 100 days in office, McConnell said, “Ignoring the facts. Passing the buck. Squandering leverage. This is not what the American people bargained for. And they know it doesn’t have to be this way.”
But the GOP leader also added, “It’s not too late. This White House can shake off its daydreams of a sweeping socialist legacy that will never happen in the United States of America. They can recommit to solving our nation’s actual problems. To fostering consensus instead of deepening our divides. That is what the American people want and deserve.”
Republicans who have been looking for new national leadership in the wake of Trump’s defeat have also been encouraged by the emergence of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Tim Scott. They could potentially join an already strong field of likely GOP presidential candidates, including senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, as well as former vice president Mike Pence and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, and others, who are all waiting to see if Trump decides to run for president again in 2024.
In addition, on the state level, Democrats are clearly in trouble. Their strong 2020 effort to take back control of state legislatures across the country dominated by Republicans turned out to be a complete failure, and two powerful Democrat governors, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom, are currently fighting for their political lives.
PROGRESSIVES DEMANDING MORE FROM BIDEN
While many progressives said they were pleasantly surprised by their big spending items that Biden was able to tack onto his Covid relief bill, their initial success has only whetted their appetite for more, on a wide variety of politically sensitive issues.
For example, during the two-day climate change summit that Biden convened with 40 world leaders in April, he announced his ambitious goal for the United States to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent over 2005 levels by the year 2030. But the amount of money which he has proposed spending to achieve that goal over the next eight years, $2 trillion, is just half of the amount he promised as a presidential candidate — and liberal environmental groups have started to complain about it.
Progressive Democrats were also disappointed that Biden did not fight harder to keep the raise to $15-an-hour for the federal minimum wage in his Covid relief package, and that despite the fact that the Covid relief bill contained a significant amount of money to lower the cost of getting Obamacare health coverage, Biden has made no effort so far to add a “public option” that would compete, and ultimately eliminate, the privately-sponsored health insurance plans currently available through Obamacare.
Biden has given his public support to bills already passed by the House Democrats that would federalize state voting regulations and reform federal immigration laws. But neither bill has any chance of winning passage in the Senate and getting signed into law as long as the filibuster rule remains in place, enabling Republicans to block their progress.
Biden has responded to these pressures in recent days by reversing his previous policy and raising the current cap on refugees to be admitted into the United States, and calling for a mandatory rollback in the high cost of prescription drugs. But progressive activists are no longer satisfied with Biden’s liberal rhetoric alone.
EARLY PROGRESSIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Last week, a group of progressive organizations, including Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, published a memo that graded Biden’s first 100 days in office.
It described the inclusion of unrelated liberal spending measures in Biden’s Covid relief bill as “an important step toward stabilizing the country. They also applauded him for his early decision to go it alone and pass the measure with Democrat support only, to avoid the need to compromise on those liberal measures with Republicans. The progressives expressed their satisfaction with Biden’s rhetoric on climate change and his creation of a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. They were also pleased with his choice of progressive Deb Haaland to run the Interior Department, giving her the authority to crack down on oil and gas drilling, and approved of his announcement of a deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan.
But all that, from the progressive point of view, is now history. As for their attitude towards Biden’s policies, the memo issued a stark warning: “The honeymoon is over,” it said.
The Biden administration is rapidly reaching its limits as to the kinds of progressive legislative initiatives it can get through Congress with just 50 Senate votes. As long as the filibuster rule remains in place, liberal policy proposals which can’t be disguised as budgetary measures to satisfy the narrow requirements of the reconciliation process will continue to be blocked. As a result, increasingly impatient progressive activists are steadily increasing their pressure for the confrontation with moderate Democrats over their support for the filibuster rule that the Biden White House has been desperately trying avoid.
BIDEN’S “SALT” PROBLEM
Another political problem facing the White House has been the incessant demands by 32 House members, including 24 Democrats and eight Republicans, for the full reinstatement of the so-called SALT (state and local tax) itemized deduction which was capped at $10,000 by the 2017 Trump tax cut bill. The members of this so-called “SALT caucus” are threatening to block passage of Biden’s infrastructure bill through the House unless the cap on the SALT tax deduction is entirely removed.
Biden’ problem is that he has proposed to pay for his infrastructure bill by increasing taxes on the wealthy, forcing them to pay their “fair share.” Before it was capped, the SALT deduction was one of the largest tax breaks for individual taxpayers in the IRS code, but it was only available to the 10% of all taxpayers who itemize deductions on their tax returns, rather than take the standard deduction. When the SALT deduction was first capped in 2018, it raised an additional $70 billion in tax revenues. Most of that money came from the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers, and most of them were wealthy Democrats living in high tax states such as California, New York and New Jersey. If Biden did remove the cap on the SALT deduction, he would immediately open himself to charges of hypocrisy for favoring one group of wealthy Democrats over all other wealthy individuals.
The SALT deduction is also inherently a divisive issue for Democrats. It pits the economic interests of the wealthy liberal elite, for which it is very valuable, against the interests of the original Democrat working-class voter base, whose members overwhelmingly take the standard deduction, and therefore can’t take advantage of the SALT tax break.
Some claim that Trump and the Republicans only agreed to cap the SALT deduction, thereby violating their principles against raising taxes, to set a political trap for Democrat politicians from the “blue” states which were most affected. Overall, 39 of the 40 congressional districts across the country most affected by the SALT cap were represented by Democrats. Of those, 28 came from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
The SALT deduction can be thought of as a generous federal rebate for the state and local taxes paid by wealthy individuals. The more state and local taxes they paid, the more the rebate was worth to them in the form of a reduction in their federal income taxes.
For example, on the Upper East Side of New York, before the cap, the SALT deduction was worth an average of $100,000 for each taxpayer who was able to take advantage of it. In the San Francisco congressional district represented by Nancy Pelosi, the pre-cap SALT deduction was worth an average $53,471 for taxpayers who claimed it. On his personal taxes in 2016, Senator Chuck Schumer also took advantage of the SALT tax break, using it to claim a $58,000 deduction. But AOC has broken with her fellow New York Democrats by publicly condemning their demands for a repeal of the cap as “a gift for billionaires.”
It is therefore not surprising that both Schumer and Pelosi have publicly endorsed the demands by other blue state Democrats for repeal of the cap, while President Biden has remained silent on the issue.
THE SCHIZOPHRENIC PRESIDENT REVEALED
After his first 100 days in the White House, the picture that emerges of Joe Biden is that of a president with a schizophrenic political profile. During his long career in Washington, he has wound up on both sides, at one time or another, on almost all the major issues of our times. Until now, Biden changed his political stripes as needed without attracting too much attention, with his affable personality affording him the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of most observers. But now, as president, with every twist and turn in his policy stance under the closest scrutiny, he is rapidly running out of political wiggle room, especially with progressives who have always been dubious of his support for their agenda.
During his first 100 days, Biden benefitted from the lingering sense of national emergency due to the pandemic. It gave him the added political leeway he needed with the general public to fulfill some of the policy promises he made to progressives in return for their support in last year’s election campaign.
But now, as the progressives have stated, that honeymoon period is over. From now, it will become harder for Biden to keep his fragile working Democrat majority in the House and Senate intact, which he must do, to pass the two ambitious spending measures to which he has already tied the success of the rest of his presidency.