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Maurits Cornelis Escher - 1953

Sep 24, 2021
Faltering Agenda? –– Newsletter Issue #142

Hugely consequential and transformative policy and spending decisions often are hidden from Americans behind the complex web of congressional procedures—and, of course, back-room deals.

And this could not be more true right now. The ultra-liberal progressive caucus in Congress, with nearly 100 votes, is threatening to block passage of the $550 billion infrastructure bill that already has cleared the Senate unless they get a simultaneous vote on their spending blow out of $3.5 trillion for social and climate change programs.

“Critics have assailed this tactic as political hostage-taking, but it’s more like a murder-suicide pact, since progressives want a big infrastructure bill too,” according to Will Marshall who heads the center-left Progressive Policy Institute. It will take the vote of virtually every Democrat to pull off passage of both bills.

The deadline for the votes is set for next week which is also the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, with a government shutdown threatened unless Congress also raises the debt limit to allow more borrowing to finance existing spending. 

Marshall writes, in an op-ed for The Hill, “they’re apparently willing to sacrifice the infrastructure upgrade to gain political leverage over the growing ranks of moderate Democrats who, although they support many elements of the massive reconciliation bill, are balking at its $3.5 trillion price tag.”

Marshall’s polling shows that progressive demands for “ bold structural change” are “out of step with public opinion...Democrats also are seen as ‘too anti-business’ [and] give Republicans the edge on the economy, innovation and helping entrepreneurs and small business.”

Progressive want to use their vote leverage to jam through the largest spending bill in American history without a single congressional hearing. And President Biden strongly support them. 

But with Biden’s low-40s job approval numbers, he lacks the political capital he needs. Despite his bluster about being the ultimate vote counter, the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter writes that Biden “looks more like a helpless bystander than an experienced Capitol Hill deal maker, watching from the sidelines as his party struggles with internal divisions.”

At the Galen Institute, we are doing everything we can to clang alarms about this reckless $3.5 trillion bill and its health care provisions.  For example,
  • Brian Blase had a piece in The Wall Street Journal this week about its major Medicaid expansion and earlier about the massive spending on Obamacare tax credits for affluent Americans. 
  • Doug Badger opined in a Washington Examiner article about whether Democratic leaders can pull this off. 
  • And I wrote a piece for The Daily Signal about how the bill’s price controls on pharmaceuticals would significantly undermine the search for future treatments and cures. 
Seasoned journalist and political analyst Mike Allen writes today in Axios:

“President Biden bit off too much, too fast in trying to ram through what would be the largest social expansion in American history, top Democrats privately say.

“Why it matters: At the time Biden proposed it, he had his mind set on a transformational accomplishment that would put him in the pantheon of FDR and JFK.

“Democrats, controlling two branches of government, saw a once-in-a-lifetime opening. In retrospect, some top advisers say this should have been done in smaller chunks.

“An outside White House adviser said: ‘Reality is setting in that you can’t pass a $3.5 trillion package. It’s going to get scaled back. The question is whether it can be done this year.’”

There is so much spending, so many destructive taxes, and such major policy changes that even many Democrats are getting scared, as Will Marshall’s article in The Hill shows.

“Instead of going for everything at once, however, Democrats need to set priorities and fashion a reconciliation package that they can pay for without breaking the party’s diverse coalition apart,” Marshall concludes. “Unlike their counterparts in safe blue places, Democrats running in highly competitive districts and states can’t ignore battleground voters’ worries about debt, inflation and private job creation.”

Never discount Speaker Pelosi’s strong-arm tactics to get her way, but this is the status today. The sharp divisions within the Democratic party, oddly, could be the path to thwart for now their aggressive effort to transform America with massive new cradle-to-grave entitlement spending.
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