Ryan Grim recalls how Obama, even though he came into office in 2009 in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis with much bigger Democratic majorities in both houses of congress than Joe Biden just obtained, got slow-walked by the Republicans who dangled the carrot of bipartisanship in front of him and managed to water down all his proposals. His weak response is blamed for the massive losses the party suffered in the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections which resulted in Republicans winning the majorities in both chambers.
In talks with Sens. Specter, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins, the proposal was whittled down, with Collins arbitrarily insisting no funds for school construction or upgrades be included. So that was cut. The resulting $787 billion package was woefully small, leaving unemployment hovering at 10 percent by November 2010.
In the end, Specter, still a Republican, joined Snowe and Collins in voting for the rescue package on the Senate floor in February. It came at the cost of paring it down severely and extending the pain of the recession. Though the economy eventually began growing slowly, millions were left out of work, and voters threw Democrats out of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. The recovery plodded along.
The benign view of Obama’s failure was that he had too much faith in his ability to persuade Republicans to do the right thing or in their desire to do the right thing, realizing only too late that the Republicans were acting in bad faith all along, intent on sabotaging any real action. The more cynical view (which I share) is that Obama is a quintessential neoliberal politician of the Clinton mold, people who run for and win office on popular programs but have little interest in carrying out any radical agenda. They actually like having their wings clipped while in office so that they can triangulate and makes deals that absolve themselves of responsibility for the lack of follow through. The fact that Obama chose the utterly reactionary Rahm Emmanuel as his chief of staff and gave the reins of pushing through his signature health policy to another utterly reactionary senator Max Baucus, who immediately eliminated single payer and even the public options, convinced me that Obama was deep in the neoliberal swamp.
[UPDATE: It was no surprise to me that arch neoliberal Larry Summers, chief economic advisor to Obama in the role of director of his National Economic Council, is one of those now urging Biden to scale down his stimulus package because of fears about inflation and the deficit, favorite talking points of Republicans only when they are out of office. These are the people Obama chose to surround himself with. It is a good sign that the current White House is shunning Summers.]
Grim argues that Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi seem to have decided not to make that same mistake. They are the ones now dangling bipartisanship in front of Republicans to get some of them on board but seem willing to go it alone if they do not come quickly.
In the same interview, Schumer blasted his party’s approach to the Affordable Care Act. “Look at 200, where we spent a year and a half trying to get something good done, ACA, Obamacare, and we didn’t do all the other things that had to be done. We will not repeat that mistake,” he said. “We will not repeat that mistake.”
Republicans in the Senate have countered by suggesting Democrats lop off more than two-thirds of their proposal, bringing it down to $600 billion. That’s an offer the 2009 Democratic Party would have taken seriously. This time around, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, one of the handful of red-state Democrats remaining, told CNN he was fine with the price tag. “I don’t think $1.9 trillion, even though it is a boatload of money, is too much money. I think now is not the time to starve the economy,” he said.
“If it’s $1.9 trillion, so be it,” Manchin told a nonplussed Mika Brzezinski.
For some reason, Democrats would rather try a different route this time around. On“Morning Joe,” Manchin suggested a lawmaking process so reasonable that, for Senate Democrats, it’s downright radical. “If they wanna be reasonable and they wanna participate, then we work with them,” said Manchin of his GOP colleagues. “Let’s see if they have an amendment, a reasonable amendment. If they have something zeroed” — fully stripped from the package — “it gets no votes. Then the Democrats vote, and we move on.”
A legislative body debating an issue, voting, and allowing that vote to determine the outcome: It’s so crazy, it just might work.
You have to start by assuming that the Republicans will act to oppose any truly progressive policies and will do so in bad faith if they feel that is what it takes.
Biden has indicated that while he will oppose reducing the direct payments of $1,400 that he has proposed, he is willing to consider reducing the income amount at which it starts to get phased out from its current value of $75,000 per person. If that is not enough to get some Republicans to sign on, he should withdraw that offer and go ahead with his original plans under the assumption that Republicans have no intention of signing on unless the whole plan is gutted.