Updated: May 22, 2021
Shahid Buttar, a recent congressional candidate in San Francisco exploring another run, wasn't in the mood to mince any words when he read about White House plans to cut back on many of Biden's already very modest budget proposals. "Biden’s decision to abandon his campaign promises to lower prescription drug costs, or allow a public option for health insurance," he told me today, "are sadly both predictable and entirely on brand. He’s been characterized by many confused pundits as the most progressive president since FDR, which is a laughably ridiculous claim given his history in Washington as among the most conservative voices in the Democratic Party for decades. From the migrant children still in cages at our borders, to the bombs still being sold to proxy powers like Israel and Saudi Arabia that abuse human rights, the one promise Biden has kept is that 'nothing will fundamentally change.'"
Yesterday I met with some DC Democratic heavy hitters raising money for a hard-hitting campaign to pressure Biden on S.1, the omnibus package of voting rights legislation that passed the House and is stalled in the Senate-- while pretend bipartisan talks get nowhere but are insisted on by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Biden seems to have put S.1 on a back burner while he fights for his infrastructure/jobs-- even though he even drastically cut back on that today-- and working families plans, both of which poll very well:
50% favor the infrastructure plan as opposed to 30% who oppose it, mostly Republicans brainwashed by Fox and Hate Talk Radio. And the same 30% oppose the Working Families Plan-- while 51% support it:
And you'll notice that, once again, that same 30% disapproves of the job Biden is doing overall:
And yet, when asked who they would vote for in 2024 in a potential rematch between Biden and Trump... Biden kicks Trump's ass, 48-36% by a far bigger margin than 2020:
This morning Chris Cadelago and Natasha Korecki wrote about how Biden is fighting for the infrastructure and jobs bill. "Over the past few weeks," they wrote, senior White House officials, Cabinet members, and President Joe Biden himself have held dozens of calls or meetings with local Republican leaders to talk roads, bridges, and modern infrastructure investments. Much of the outreach has been done in private, with the White House not providing readouts of what was discussed. But in conversations with more than a dozen local officials familiar with the White House’s efforts-- including those on the receiving end of the outreach-- a few themes emerge. Chief among them is that the White House wants local GOP mayors and governors to convince their Republican representatives in Congress of the need to back the president’s proposals."
Mayo Pete, now Secretary of Transportation: "One of the things that I think can reach members here in Washington is the fact that they're all from somewhere, and when they're speaking to their communities-- and especially their mayors-- they hear about the different ways that this would actually impact the communities that they represent... Every mayor has got a list an arm's length long of things that are not just nice to have, but really needed in terms of infrastructure repairs, improvements and extensions. And the chance to get federal dollars to do it at a level not seen in a very long time is a really compelling way to deliver on a lot of mayors’ visions for their communities. Enlisting them to help tell their stories has been a really important part of this outreach."
The White House is hopeful that these talks can help build public support for the package. And while they’re generally not making explicit requests for local Republicans to lobby their members of Congress, they’re encouraging it when the questions come up. They aren’t distributing talking points to local GOP leaders, preferring that the officials settle on their own arguments for the necessity of the package. But they have suggested methods for getting through to Washington politicians, providing them room to vent about what it’s like to be on the front lines in cities battling flooding, crumbling bridges, antiquated transit systems or lack of broadband access. When the officials write op-eds, shoot videos or talk up infrastructure spending plans, the White House has collected them and blasted them out to the media.
“I am a registered Republican, but I am very fed up with the polarization and the demonization, and the quagmire that Washington D.C. seems to represent these days,” said Nic Hunter, mayor of Lake Charles, La. Hunter introduced Biden at an infrastructure event earlier this month. The president this week personally called Hunter to extend help after severe flooding in recent days. “We have needed a new Interstate 10 bridge for 30 years and in 30 years that has included Republican and Democratic presidents and Republican and Democratic governors. Everyone that wants to immediately shoot down a proposal just because it came from the other side, I would ask them, ‘where was your side’s proposal over the last 30 years?’”
Even if the local lobbying effort doesn’t flip any congressional GOP votes, broad buy-in from state-based Republicans like Hunter has given Biden fodder to push even more aggressively on an infrastructure plan.
...[W]hile those officials who have spoken to the Biden White House said they want it to strike a deal with Republicans, a handful of them went even further. If their own party doesn’t agree on a deal, they said, Democrats should go it alone.
“My Republican colleagues need to realize that we are becoming a second-class infrastructure country that is at crisis level,” said John Giles, a Republican and mayor of Mesa, Ariz. “We’re gonna have bridges fail, we're gonna have people die, we're gonna have our economy suffer if we continue to ignore the infrastructure of our country.”
Giles went on to echo comments from about a dozen GOP officials, when he pointed to the demands on work and schooling from home during the Covid-19 pandemic as reason for why Biden also was right to think of infrastructure as more than just roads and bridges.
“I am in favor of the expanded definition of infrastructure. We all have lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic,” Giles said. “We all have the ‘aha’ moment of the digital divide.”
Biden has to persuade Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema-- plus a handful of quieter conservative Dems in the Senate, like the two from New Hamshire, the two from his own state, the 2 from Virginia and Jon Tester (MT)-- that if the legislation doesn't get Republican support (the likely outcome of a GOP strategy that looks like obvious stalling), the Democrats have two choices: reconciliation or getting rid of the filibuster, neither of which Manchin and Sinema say they will countenance. So Biden has to convince them? Biden! He was Joe Manchin when he was in the Senate from 1973 to 2009 when Obama gave him the VP position as a ticket balancing bow to conservatives. Yesterday, the NY Times published an interview with Biden conducted by in-house conservative David Brooks: Has Biden Changed? He Tells Us.
Brooks doesn't call Biden a conservative, just "a moderate incrementalist" and he notes that since becoming president, Biden has been "promoting whopping big legislative packages that make many on the progressive left extremely happy." Brooks' problem is that he doesn't understand that Biden's popular legislative agenda is very moderate and more status quo-ante than anything truly progressive. Biden's agenda is considerably to the right of Bernie's or Pramila's... Brooks is comparing him to the neo-Nazi party that the GOP has morphed into.
Brooks wrote that out of Biden's life experience "emerges a governing philosophy, and subsequently a set of policies, that works strenuously to support people amid the setbacks of life, that offers people good jobs so they can live with dignity, that pushes against the arrogance of wealth." Like a majority of American, Biden sees government as a vehicle to help citizens through tough times. Let's go back to that YouGov polling for a moment. A plurality of Americans want to see vaccine passports in operation-- 45% to 39%-- and among vaccinated people that shoots up drastically: 65% and just 19% in opposition. Naturally it is unvaccinated people (60% of them) who oppose vaccine passports. And as far as government's role in general, a plurality want to see a bigger government providing more services, very different from what Republicans want-- a smaller government providing fewer services:
Part of Biden's core belief system, influenced by the Catholic social teaching of Jacques Maritain is that "we have serious responsibilities for one another."
The Biden administration has broken with the thinking that dominated the Clinton and Obama administrations in other ways as well, though it’s not clear how much of this is driven by Biden and how much by the team around him. As Ronald Brownstein noted in The Atlantic, for years the dominant Democratic view was that wages would rise if you gave people more skills and education. The dominant Biden era view is that you also have to give people more union bargaining power to balance corporate power. For years Democrats predominantly believed you could help Black Americans if you designed colorblind policies aimed at the working class. Now Biden officials are more likely to believe you have to create race-conscious policies that explicitly benefit Blacks.
So has Biden now become a straight-up progressive? Biden certainly doesn’t think so. “The progressives don’t like me because I’m not prepared to take on what I would say and they would say is a socialist agenda.” He thinks the people who take the big risks to generate wealth should reap the big rewards.
He’s suspicious of the generous college debt forgiveness plans that have sprung up on the left. “The idea that you go to Penn and you’re paying a total of 70,000 bucks a year and the public should pay for that? I don’t agree.”
There’s also a difference in the way Biden and the left critique big corporations. Some on the left make a comprehensive critique of capitalism, while Biden wants capitalism to keep within the bounds of common decency. He argues that corporations used to take responsibility for their communities, now it’s just shareholder value. “The C.E.O.s back as late as the 70s were making 35, 40 times as much as the average employee. Now it’s 320 times. What are they promoting? What are they doing? As my mother used to say, ‘Who died and made you boss?’”
I asked him, where is the limit between what government should and shouldn’t do? He said workers should “earn what they get. But they have to be given an opportunity. I think the thing that moved us ahead of the rest of the world at the turn of the 20th century was the notion that we had universal education.” Then he added, “If we were sitting down today to say, ‘OK, what does public education consist of in the 21st century?’ Think anybody would say 12 years is enough? I don’t.”
...Biden is not a progressive in the current sense. He is the kind of liberal that emerged after World War II: confident in America’s greatness, confident in the state, having little interest in the culture wars that emerged since the 1960s, fierce about civil rights, deeply rooted in the working and middle classes.
Biden hasn’t really changed; he’s just doing everything bigger.
This afternoon, Jeff Stein and Tyler Page reported that Biden's budget left out several of his already too "moderate" campaign promises about healthcare. "The White House jettisoned months of planning from agency staff as their initial plan could fuel criticisms that the administration is pushing new spending programs too aggressively. The budget will not include Biden’s campaign pledge to enact a public option to create a government-run health insurance program, or his pledge to cut prescription drug costs, the people said. "'Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices,' Biden said during his joint address to Congress in late April. 'It’s within our power to do it. Let’s do it now. We’ve talked about it long enough, Democrats and Republicans let’s get it done this year.' Some advocates remain optimistic Congress could still pass the measure even if the White House leaves it out of its official plans. Alex Lawson, executive director of the group Social Security Works, pointed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) support for the measure. 'Lowering drug prices is the most popular part of the Build Back Better plan among Republicans and independents. Everyone hates high drug prices, and the White House has to get in front of it,' Lawson said. 'I would also just note: It is the president’s budget request, but the House actually drafts the budget.'"
Progressive San Fernando Valley congressional candidate Shervin Aazami is anything but a garden variety Democrat. He is fighting harder than most candidates for a set of values and objectives meant to help his constituents' lives. America needs more people in office like Shervin. Today he told me that "Budgets are moral documents. While the annual President's Budget Request is exactly that-- a proposed budget-- it outlines the priorities and goals of the Administration. To see them renege on healthcare campaign promises after a year of pure devastation that has left 588,000 Americans dead and counting is asinine. If a pandemic that has led to tens of millions of Americans losing their employer-based healthcare coverage isn't a clarion call for single-payer Medicare for All I don't know what is. If rebuilding our crumbling public health infrastructure and restoring a CDC budget that was effectively slashed in half in the decade leading up to the pandemic isn't a priority now, I don't know when it will become one. We all know Biden has executive authority RIGHT NOW under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to trigger Medicare coverage for all Americans because we are in a pandemic. He has refused to do that, and now there are reports that he's backing down on a public option-- which was already a giant compromise. This is the second time Biden has dropped a push for a public option-- the first time being when the ACA was being drafted back during Obama's first term. On top of that, we saw Biden propose a shocking $13 billion increase for our military-industrial complex. Why is there always money for the U.S. war machine while basic necessities for working Americans are jettisoned? I'm sick and tired. The American people are sick and tired. I saw another headline today that Biden is trimming his infrastructure package down from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion. This is getting exhausting. How many times do Democrats need to be burned by Republicans who simply WILL NOT SUPPORT their bills before they learn to stop negotiating against the American people?
Jason Call, the progressive congressional candidate in northwest Washington didn't seem any happier with Biden's decisions to surrender to the Republicans (and conservative Democrats) today. "We appear," he told me, "to be right back in the same position we were in at the beginning of the Obama administration, as so many of us feared we would be, with a president who is more concerned about the appearance of bipartisanship and decorum than he is about easing the suffering of the vast majority of Americans. What has been done to seriously address wealth inequality in America? We have billionaires reaping vast 'disaster capitalism' rewards throughout a pandemic that has killed half a million Americans, while the working class has seen no relief from the ever-looming housing and healthcare crises. We have an ever increasing war machine budget that only serves to enrich war profiteers. There is NO serious legislation being considered to address the climate emergency. The ownership class is decrying a labor shortage, but there's no labor shortage-- it's simply of shortage of people willing to work for poverty wages (which is what they're going to eventually force people to do anyway). But what's more insidious is that this administration is being sold by the establishment as 'boldly progressive' when it's nothing of the sort. Consider the tepid 'Green Buses Act' being championed by my incumbent opponent in WA-02, corporate Dem Rep Rick Larsen. A bill that he is calling 'FDR-like' and 'aggressively progressive', this Act provides funding for 'at least 10 zero emission buses' for transit authorities that operate over 50 buses, and 'at least 5 zero emission buses' for those that operate fewer than 50. So bold! So progressive! So transformative! Give me a damn break. It's also frustrating that Bernie Sanders felt the need to make statements about Biden’s nonexistent progressive credentials against a 40 year legislative backdrop that includes the ‘94 crime bill and the ‘05 bankruptcy reform. It provides cover to the economic royalists and leaves #ActuallyProgressive candidates like myself having to argue that what we’re seeing from Biden not only isn’t progressive, it’s woefully insufficient to address the real needs of a majority of Americans. I know Bernie knows this, but at some point we have to start calling the shots on the reality of this tepid legislation. As someone who had a hand in writing an #ActuallyProgressive platform for the Washington State Democrats that was approved unanimously by the Central Committee, I know that what’s being fronted in the 'other Washington' falls far short of what the people want and more importantly what our democracy needs to remain functional in the foreseeable future."
Most American voters agree with the more progressive agenda and more progressive approach-- although not that 30% (primarily brainwashed Republicans). This last poling chart should be enough to make any conservative weep into their gin and tonic-- or beer: