I doubt this Armageddon scenario will occur, since the argument is less about substance than about arithmetic — congressional arithmetic at that, which is much more flexible than the addition and subtraction we learned in school. The numbers involved are so humongous that Pelosi and Schumer ought to be able to find some sweet spot that lets both moderates and progressives claim victory. No Democrat should see failure as an option.
But the fact that we’re talking about trillions of dollars instead of mere billions gives an idea of how ambitious the Biden-Harris administration is. Anyone who might have imagined that our oldest president would mostly be a soothing corrective after the insanity of the Donald Trump years was dead wrong.
Look at what Biden and Vice President Harris have done to reshape U.S. foreign policy — an area in which presidents largely have free rein. Previous administrations talked the talk. Biden is walking the walk in ways that have both our allies and our adversaries struggling to keep up.
The Obama administration talked for years about ending the war in Afghanistan and withdrawing American forces, but ended up agreeing to a troop surge instead. The Trump administration signed a bad deal, incompetently negotiated, to bring U.S. troops home but got booted out of office before being able to follow through. Biden could have tried to get out of the bargain. Instead, he went ahead and fulfilled it.
No, the withdrawal wasn’t pretty. But it happened. This nation’s longest war is over — any way you look at it, that’s a historic milestone, and one Biden has used to reshape U.S. goals abroad.
Biden and Harris are pulling off a shift in our foreign policy orientation that has been talked about for more than a decade — a “pivot” or “tilt” away from our traditional focus on Europe and the Middle East toward the region now called the Indo-Pacific, with an eye toward the rise of China as a competing superpower.
Biden secretly negotiated a new defense pact with Australia and Britain that will give the Australians nuclear-powered submarine technology as a check on China’s growing naval power. He hosted the first in-person summit of the Quad strategic alliance — the United States, Japan, Australia and India — in another initiative aimed at containing China’s regional ambitions. He sent Harris to Southeast Asia to shore up U.S. ties with Singapore and Vietnam.
China’s leaders hate all of these moves, which they see as hostile. It is unclear whether Biden’s shift in focus makes a potential confrontation over the fate of Taiwan more or less likely. Even if it doesn’t come to that, this reorientation matters, and it matters a lot.
Still, it is true that Biden’s political standing and the Democrats’ electoral prospects will probably turn on the success or failure of his domestic agenda. You can love that vision or hate it, but the one thing it can’t be called is modest.
The passage of the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama was the most significant shift in the role of government in this country since the Reagan administration. Now, however, Biden is seeking a much more dramatic sea change.
He wants to help Americans buy electric cars and build charging stations to make them practical as a way of fighting climate change. He wants high-speed trains on some heavily traveled routes. He wants everyone to have broadband Internet access. He wants to provide free or subsidized child care and 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family leave. He wants to offer free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and two free years of community college. He wants to expand Medicare benefits and reduce prescription drug costs.
Okay, he wants everything including the kitchen sink. And that’s what the nation needs after four decades of trickle-down economics that created massive inequality and allowed the nation’s physical infrastructure and human infrastructure to fall behind.
Biden and Harris have been in office for just eight months. Deduct style points from their score if you like. Acknowledge the failures on issues such as immigration. But they swing for the fences. And they get things done.