It took last week’s electoral shock in Virginia to unravel the Democratic Party’s internal impasse. The passage of a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Friday night brought a remarkably optimistic end to less than a week of Joe Biden’s presidency. And the prospect of a $1.75 trillion “Building Back Better” bill passed by Thanksgiving would provide more good news for the embattled president. Nothing succeeds like success, as the saying goes.
The smaller bill passed several hours after the most encouraging jobs report in months — with more than half a million added to payrolls in October. If the recent decline in delta infections continues, the US economy is likely to be in strong shape in the run-up to next year’s congressional elections. Although history and recent polls are not on Biden’s side, there is no ironclad law that the incumbent party must lose control in a president’s first half-term. George W. Bush bucked this trend in 2002.
Political relief aside, it will take more than one infrastructure bill to change this president’s fortunes. By some measures, this is the largest public infrastructure upgrade since Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency in the early Cold War. The bill includes $550 billion in new spending over a decade, making it somewhat less dramatic than its headline figure.
However, the effects of the new money for roads, railroads, ports, rural broadband, water supply, and building an electric vehicle charging network in the United States will begin to be felt early next year. Although it is mostly financed through accounting tricks rather than high taxes, the effect of the law will help ease US inflationary pressures by reducing supply bottlenecks. Thus, it will help boost the recovery of the US economy after the pandemic.
However, passing the larger bill is still not guaranteed. Unlike the infrastructure package, which 13 Republican senators backed, rebuilding better is a purely Democratic matter. Even then, securing Democratic consensus, required to pass anything in the Senate in a 50:50 ratio, would be a struggle.
Centrist objections have stripped the bill of some of its key features, including enhanced authority of the Internal Revenue Service to clamp down on tax evasion, new Medicare powers to negotiate prescription drug prices, the right to family and paid medical leave, and increases tax on higher income brackets.
The remainder is less than half the size of the original invoice and far less transformative than the initial promise. It would still provide an injection in the arm for middle-class families, especially women, by funding inclusive early childhood learning and expanding the children’s tax credit. This would raise the female participation rate in the anemic US workforce by reducing the often crippling burden of childcare. Again, such procedures are inflated.
The bill would also provide the largest investment in renewable energy in US history. Although stripped of its most effective climate change provision, which would have accelerated the electricity sector’s transition from fossil fuels, what remains is essential.
Will this be enough to get Biden back on the right track? Since he staked his credibility in passing both bills, it would be hard to imagine him doing so without the enactment of Act Two. Biden’s acceptance rates began to decline in August during the withdrawal of Afghan forces, hurting his claims that he is competent. High inflation, high murder rates, and high rates of illegal border crossings, reaching their 10-year peak, have caused public concern. The best response to voter discontent is action. Getting big legislation is exactly what Biden should be doing.