A historic, trillion-dollar triumph for Biden and US
Despite razor-thin majorities in the US Senate and the House—where corralling lawmakers can be as frustrating as herding cats—Biden has managed the near-impossible task of steering through Congress a massive USD 1.9 trillion bill about to profoundly change America.
"It would provide another round of direct payments for Americans, an extension of federal jobless benefits and billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and provide relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic," The New York Times reports. "The bill is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty in half." These estimates are based on a Columbia University study.
US progressives—myself emphatically included—owe Biden an apology.
At one point in the Democratic battle for the presidential nomination last year, his campaign appeared to be in its death throes. Good riddance, I had thought, and I was far from alone.
Biden's perennial candidacy had an almost pathetic air to it. He gave the impression of a person who's past it, and his mantra of bipartisanship sounded like an archaic anachronism that seem to advocate unilateral Democratic disarmament at a time of vicious hyperpolarisation where Republicans had a take-no-prisoners strategy.
How Biden has proved us wrong.
Biden launched a campaign that was hamstrung by a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic and a sui generis opponent remarkable for his mendacity, mean-spirited attacks and appalling boorishness (his conduct forced the presidential debate authorities to take a step unprecedented in the western world—they threatened to switch off his mike if he misbehaved.)
Biden ran a warm, informed, humane campaign free of invective and he focused on policy. He conducted himself with coherence and competence in public appearances.
His opponent, former President Donald Trump, won the greatest number of votes ever won by a US presidential candidate—and still lost to Biden.
Now, barely within six weeks of inauguration, Biden's trillion-dollar stimulus bill promises to permanently change the nation's political complexion for the foreseeable future.
It is one of history's big ironies that he was the running mate of a storied US president, Barack Obama, whose intelligence, poise and soaring rhetoric made him appear to be one of America's transformational president.
Yet faced with implacable Republican opposition, and put in a difficult position by his own laudable if fruitless commitment to bipartisanship—Obama's stimulus package never did pack a big enough wallop.
Biden, who never had the Olympian standing of Obama, has done what Obama could not. He has passed legislation that is destined to transform American politics.
To be sure, the credit is not Biden's alone. Biden's secret to success has been that he has deferred to experts when necessary. Right from the campaign throughout the early days of his presidency, Biden has projected an aura of seamless competence.
Take his extraordinarily smooth rollout of administration appointees. With one conspicuous exception, all have been easily confirmed by the US Senate. It's also one of the most astonishingly diverse cabinets ever, bristling with historic firsts—but what's more important—these are all competent, smart folks.
Janet Yellen, the first woman Treasury Secretary, is a former chair of the US Federal Reserve Bank. Princeton economics professor Cecilia Rouse is the first woman of colour to chair the Council of Economic Advisors. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is the first ever Native American cabinet secretary.
As far as the USD 1.9 trillion stimulus bill goes, Republicans in Congress, to nobody's surprise, are crying foul. It is true that not a single Republican voted for the stimulus bill, but it's hard to muster a lot of sympathy for Republicans who passed Trump's deficit-ballooning tax law in 2017 without a single Democratic vote.
Biden and Democrats had learned a bitter lesson from the Obama days, when their good-faith attempts at bipartisanship resulted in stalling and ultimately produced a much-attenuated stimulus bill.
This time around, Democrats know time is of the essence. They barely hold the Senate (50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie), and the House is also pretty close. Upcoming 2022 elections could wrest the Senate away from Democrats. Even now the majority hangs by a thread—any retirement or death could give away the Senate to the Republicans, and then good luck with passing legislation.
Republicans have begun their ritual lament of the deficit and what it would do to our grandchildren who will be saddled with massive debt, a consideration that apparently failed to cross their mind when they backed Trump's trillion-dollar giveaway to the uber-rich in 2017. Past presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush left massive deficits as well, and if Republican lawmakers were worried about it at that time, they have kept it a closely guarded secret.
Congress Republican opposition is in remarkable contrast with their own voters. "Some 70 percent of American adults—including half of Republicans—support the measure, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll conducted March 8-9," according to a Reuters report.
The Biden administration and their Democratic allies in Congress are just getting started. House Democrats have already passed a historic voting rights law which faces an uphill battle in the Senate. Massive plans on immigration and infrastructure are in the pipeline.
It's unlikely to be a cakewalk, however. Sweet though it is, Biden and the Democrats have just only won a battle. The war is still far from over—and structural, undemocratic advantages that Republicans enjoy mean the challenge ahead is quite formidable.
Joe Biden has his work cut out for him.
Ashfaque Swapan, an Atlanta-based writer and editor, is contributing editor for Siliconeer, an online South Asian publication.