Biden's first move

How ambitious is it?

Hello friends,

This edition of the newsletter has a 2 to 3 minute read time:

(1) A brief analysis of Biden’s first legislative proposal and what it might take to get it done.

(2) What I’m reading.

Biden’s first move

Biden’s proposal for his first fiscal stimulus is meaty — about triple the size of Obama’a 2009 stimulus, and includes, among other things: $1400 cash payments; an increase of the $300 unemployment enhancement to $400 through September; state and local government aid; business assistance; a national vaccination program; a $15 federal minimum wage; and a child tax credit that could cut child poverty by at least a third. It’s also worth noting that this is the first of a two step plan — it’s meant to be an emergency relief package, and to be followed by another, presumably larger, bill.

Does that $1400 check figure sound unfamiliar? It’s the $2000 figure Biden called for in the run-up to the last relief bill minus the $600 checks that ended up passing in December. The left-wing Squad rejects the math and says that it still wants the $2000 checks that Biden promised earlier.

Other concerns on the left: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) says that enhanced unemployment should return to the $600 that took effect last year. “The original four-month law actually reduced the poverty rate,” he told HuffPost. And a senior Biden official told HuffPost that Biden is not prioritizing “economic triggers,” something some progressives want because it ties the extra unemployment cash to the actual unemployment rate — that is, how bad the labor market is — rather than a calendar date cut off. There’s also a debate about whether comparisons to Obama’s stimulus bill are appropriate given the size of the output gap in the 2021 economy.

But overall, a number of progressive analysts see it an indication of ambition, especially considering it’s the first of a two-step plan; Sen. Bernie Sanders called it “a very good start.”

The big issue might be process. Biden plans to get Republican buy-in and avoid using the special budget reconciliation process — a maneuver that would allow Dems to pass a bill with only the simple majority they have in the Senate. I’m the first to criticize Biden’s bipartisanship fetishism, but I’ll explain why it makes sense for two reasons. First of all, I cannot think of any sensible president who would not at least attempt to open their legislative agenda with a bid for bipartisan cooperation. It will allow Biden to test the (frigid) waters as he reaches out behind the scene to moderate Republicans, and it will fulfill his campaign promise to attempt unity. And on a substantive policy level, an increase in the minimum wage likely cannot be passed through budget reconciliation and does in fact need a filibuster-proof majority. (For those interested, here’s an explainer on budget reconciliation and here’s a list of policies Biden could pass through budget reconciliation.)

I also cannot think of any sensible president — one interested in serious policy results rather than just hitting a quota of bills passed — who would actually expect to extract cooperation from Republicans on most issues. The question is how committed Biden really is to working out a deal with Republicans, and if and when there is a plan to retreat to budget reconciliation. If he sticks to a bipartisan deal, there’s a good chance that the final package will be a shell of the original proposal. But there is a world in which Biden uses the GOP’s recalcitrance as a basis for pivoting to reconciliation. I’m not sure how far away that world is. All the while, pressure on moderate, institutionalist Dems like Sen. Joe Manchin to consider abolishing the filibuster should intensify over the course of this process, but all signs suggest he won’t budge on that.

One clear takeaway from this announcement — norms regarding fiscal policy have changed dramatically since the Obama era.


What I’m reading

McConnell is considering moving against Trump in the Senate impeachment trial.

House GOP freshmen are already involved fighting over Trump’s legacy in their party, and the texts are pretty funny.

Study: The 5-year roadshow for America’s first blockbuster, Birth of a Nation, corresponded with a sharp spike in lynchings, race riots and increase for Klan support in the counties that it arrived in, and its effect on race relations in those areas can be seen to this day.

Bernie Sanders’ new role at the helm of the Senate budget committee means he’ll have huge influence over budget reconciliation, which will affect everything from tax to health care policy.

White riot: How racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together to fuel violence and mayhem on Jan. 6.

The House Antitrust Subcommittee’s findings on how Facebook is a monopoly (from October 2020).

The storming of Capitol Hill is revived calls for a domestic terrorism law, but civil liberties groups are pushing back.

On India’s raging farmers: “For the first time in six years, Mr. Modi is encountering opposition that he has not been able to stifle or tar with his extensive propaganda machinery. His government has toned down the initial rhetoric against the protesters and entered into eight rounds of talks with the protesting farmers, but there has been little substantive progress.”

Racism among Capitol Police: “Over 250 Black cops have sued the department since 2001. Some of those former officers now say it’s no surprise white nationalists were able to storm the building.”

Poll: “An overwhelming majority of Republicans still don’t trust the [election] outcome — and almost half don’t think that President-elect Joe Biden should be inaugurated.”

Anne Applebaum and the crisis of centrist politics: “Applebaum’s blind faith in the center-right strains of neoliberalism and meritocratic mobility also conveniently absolves her and her remaining friends of any responsibility for the present crisis. Their success, when they had it, was well deserved; to the extent that they are now powerless against the dangers presented by their estranged cohort, it is only because real merit is no longer being rewarded. It never seems to cross Applebaum’s mind that having had so many erstwhile friends who ended up on the far right might say something unflattering about her own judgment—and more generally about the center-right political tradition to which she belongs.”

Trump is banned. Who is next? “The story of the past week in content moderation can be told in two ways. The first is the formalistic myth that platforms want us to believe. In this telling, platforms have policies and principles they hew to; their decisions based on them are neutral, carefully considered evaluations of the rules and the facts. The second is the realist take, in which the posts and tweets of platform executives and spokespeople can be seen as fig leaves, trying to hide that these were, at bottom, arbitrary and suddenly convenient decisions made possible by a changed political landscape and new business imperatives.”

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