San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
President Biden made yet another 13figure spending plan the centerpiece of his first address to a joint session of Congress, and it was a flop. Well, at least if one went by the Republican reviews, which uniformly characterized his proposal as the culmination of 100 days of profligate, partisan spending.
They have a point of sorts: Biden’s agenda is heavy on spending. But that’s partly because of the reactionary, antimajoritarian rules that Republicans themselves are upholding. The illogic of the Senate filibuster and the reconciliation process, which offers the only legislative detour around minority obstructionism, dictates that Biden and the Democratic majority can’t do anything spend money.
Biden’s American Families Plan proposes spending $1.8 trillion over the next decade on tax credits for children and families, child care and paid family leave, and universal preschool and community college. The megaproposal comes a month after he advocated spending even more, $2.3 trillion, on infrastructure and employment. All of that would be added to the $1.9 trillion in pandemic and economic relief Biden signed into law in March. New spending pushed by the administration is poised to blow past $6 trillion if Congress passes both current proposals, the biggest federal spending increase in decades.
Republicans have responded by teapartying like it’s 2009. “A biggovernmental takeover of the family,” declared a statement from the conservative American Principles Project. “A patchwork of leftwing social engineering programs,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell decried. “Washington schemes” and “socialist dreams,” said Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C.
Scott, who delivered the official Republican rebuttal to Biden’s speech, strove to revive the GOP’s taxandspend attack of yore — fresh off the fouryear vacation it took under Trump — and connect it to the party’s message of the moment: that government spending is uniquely Democratic and therefore a betrayal of Biden’s appeals to bipartisanship. Democrats “wanted to go it alone,” Scott said of Biden’s first big spending legislation, a “$2 trillion ... partisan bill that the White House bragged was the most liberal bill in American history.” Now, he went on, the president is proposing “even more taxing, even more spending.”
As evidenced by the tortured attempts to question the spending without criticizing its purposes, Biden is addressing a neglected need to shore up infrastructure and the social safety net. His proposals are broadly popular, and the idea of funding them by taxing corporations and the wealthy is even more so.
The need and impulse to tax and spend are only furthered by the filibuster’s support among Republicans and a few rightleaning Democrats. The rule currently requires 10 members of the minority to support most legislation, a hurdle that even condemning the storming of the Capitol couldn’t clear. That means Democratic priorities such as reforming elections, law enforcement and gun laws are effectively dead on arrival in the upper chamber. What’s left are taxes and spending, the only subjects that can be legislated by a simple majority under the arcane reconciliation process.
As Biden told the joint session, he was handed a country in tatters and a mandate to mend it. The president has demonstrated considerable — and laudable — ambition to do so. The backward rules that supposed conservatives are defending have the perverse effect of channeling all that ambition into spending more trillions.