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Why Are There So Many Democrats to Joe Biden’s Right?

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Joe Biden didn’t ask moderate Democrats to do anything he wouldn’t.

During his 36 years in the Senate, Biden was a walking, talking weather vane. Wherever political winds blew, he followed. He was for school integration before his constituents were against it. He was skeptical of “tough on crime” politics before the electorate clamored for it. You might let your conscience be your guide; Biden stuck with the median voter.

The president is more liberal now than he used to be. But so is the country. And Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda evinces the same concern for political expediency that structured his Senate career. Unlike his predecessor, Biden isn’t trying to remake the American health-care system or (overtly) increase the cost of fossil fuels. Unlike his top primary rival, the president wouldn’t dream of asking middle-class Americans to pay higher taxes. Biden’s ambition is merely to invest in green technology, enact several popular social reforms (including universal pre-K, paid family leave, price controls on prescription drugs, a child allowance, and at-home care for the elderly), raise taxes on the top one percent, and cut them for the bottom 90 percent.

Taken together, this agenda is historically consequential — and yet politically anodyne. The Build Back Better Act has attracted some pushback from conservatives and well-heeled interests. But this opposition is negligible when compared to the Tea Party mobilization of 2009. Moderate Democrats have not seen their town halls conquered by apoplectic reactionaries in tricorne hats. Corporate America has barely opened its pockets. This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled “a six-figure ad campaign” against the Biden agenda; 12 years ago, America’s health insurers spent $100 million trying to defeat the Affordable Care Act. By the time the ACA came up for a vote, it had a 40 percent approval rating. Build Back Better still commands majority support.

Nevertheless, the bill won’t make it to Biden’s desk intact.

Progressive and moderate Democrats are still arm wrestling over the details of Build Back Better. But all recent reporting suggests that the party’s right flank will force it to cut the package’s cost. At present, the legislation authorizes $3.5 trillion in new spending over a decade. That amounts to less than a 5 percent increase in the federal budget. It is also inadequate to fully fund the president’s platform; to keep the bill’s fiscal cost under $3.5 trillion, Democrats were planning to phase out Biden’s child allowance by mid-decade and delay the implementation of various other programs. Conventional wisdom now holds that the final bill will be more than $1 trillion cheaper.

On one level, this is unsurprising. Democrats barely control Congress; the party’s Senate majority rests on the whims of a coal........

© Daily Intelligencer

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