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Will Joe Biden Let the Senate Kill His Presidency?

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12.05.2020

Recovering from the economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic is likely to require a fiscal response on the order of magnitude of the aftermath of World War II. The good news is that Joe Biden seems to understand this. The bad news is that he does not seem to have a legislative strategy that would make any such legislation remotely plausible.

Gabriel Debenedetti’s report on Biden’s plans unspools the good news. Biden appears to grasp the scale of the catastrophe, describing it as much greater than the 2008 crash and rendering any concern about deficits irrelevant. Biden has moved left on a broad array of issues, courting the party’s progressive wing by adopting some of the ideas championed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

It is hard to say which of these he will ultimately prioritize, but a recovery bill will almost surely be the first major initiative, and its success or failure will set his administration’s course. A big, effective stimulus would blunt the midterm backlash and increase the chances that Biden, or his vice-president, win reelection. An underpowered stimulus would lead to weak growth and discontented voters.

The problem is that Biden’s willingness to support, or even push for, liberal ideas is not the important constraint. The Senate is. And there is very little reason to believe Biden is thinking strategically about this impediment.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a historically massive fiscal stimulus — several times the size of previous stimulus bills and larger as a share of the economy than any fiscal legislation Franklin Roosevelt signed (though not nearly as large or stimulative as the war buildup that followed his domestic measures.) It was also inadequate to fill the hole created by the recession. It’s impossible to understand the stimulus without grasping both these contradictory points of comparison: its largeness in comparison both with anything that came before it and the system’s........

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