Photo: Senator Joe Manchin and then-Vice President Joe Biden together in January 2017
Today’s budget proposal that the Biden administration is attempting to present as a bold vision for social change is in fact little more than a bitter reminder of the Democrats’ failure over the last two years to implement their own agenda of progressive reform. Despite having a clear popular mandate, when it was actually possible to enact the measures included in Biden’s draft budget, the Democratic Party leadership came up woefully short.
To become law, a budget must pass both houses of Congress, and there is no prospect that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will vote in favor of these proposals. Up until the midterm election, however, the Democrats were in the relatively rare position of controlling the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their failure in these critical years to pass major reforms has reduced their current proposals to little more than rhetorical statements of principles.
Much of what is in Biden’s budget proposal would indeed bring some welcome relief to working people. The draft includes provisions to restore the enhanced child tax credit that sends monthly checks to parents, reduce drug prices, increase subsidies to cover the cost of college tuition, and establish universal pre-K. It would also fund an expansion in the number of children who receive free school meals, and mandate paid family and medical leave up to 12 weeks.
It would pay for this by increasing taxes on the rich and corporations. This includes a 25 percent minimum tax on people with over $100 million, an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, and an increase in the tax on a financial maneuver favored by major companies called stock buybacks. It would improve the financial situation of a crucial component of Medicare with a tax hike on investment income brought in by households with an income above $400,000.
Especially amid the inflation crisis, these measures — along with much more dramatic steps like a universal health care system and the forgiveness of student debt — are urgently needed.
It should also be noted that there are highly reactionary, anti-worker parts of Biden’s proposal as well. The draft allocates a record $835 billion for the Pentagon, reflecting the administration’s commitment to its new Cold War policy that is bringing the world to the edge of catastrophe. The White House also brags in a press release that it, “includes funding to put 100,000 additional police officers on the street.”
But the aspects of the Biden administration’s agenda that are positive — which are rooted, not in genuine concern for the people, but fear that capitalist rule would be destabilized in the absence of concessions — can all be vetoed by the Republican majority in the House. This is a ridiculous state of affairs considering that most of these proposals are recycled from the “Build Back Better” social program expansion that Biden spent much of his presidency up to this point pushing.
Because they were unwilling to eliminate the anti-democratic “filibuster” rule in the Senate, Biden had to stake everything on a single bill passed as part of a budget procedure that is immune to the filibuster’s 60-vote requirement. But in order to succeed, he needed to force Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two most right-wing Democratic Senators, to go along with it. Rather than bringing to bear the pressure that can be generated by the most powerful political office on the planet, President Biden simply offered concessions and praised Manchin in public, emphasizing what great friends they had been for many years. This, unsurprisingly, amounted to nothing, and Manchin humiliated Biden by announcing on Fox News that he was withdrawing from negotiations with the White House.
Biden’s stated position on expanding social programs is highly popular. In all likelihood, voters would have rewarded the Democrats with expanded majorities in Congress if they had followed through on their campaign promises. But instead, the rightwing now controls half of Congress and has the ability to use the “debt ceiling” government borrowing limit and the “government shutdown” budget deadlines to imperil what meager programs do exist. This is a situation that exists thanks to the total inability of the Democratic Party elite to keep their promises to the people.