Im not aware of any poll that has asked the question Do you think President Biden is being jerked around by two senators? but I think a large number of Americans, if asked, would answer that in the affirmative. Of course, its not just Biden but the entire Democratic Party, root and branch, thats being jerked around by Sens. Manchin and Sinemaand its the entire Democratic Party that will likely pay a price for this in next years midterm elections.
Weve been here before. During the initial two years of his presidency, Barack Obama engaged in what seemed at the time like an endless succession of negotiations with Republicans and centrist Democratic senators over his proposed Affordable Care Act. In the end, the Republicans flatly rejected it in any way, shape, or form, but perhaps even more nettlesome was the determination on the part of two Democratic senators in particularFinance Committee Chair Max Baucus of Montana and Connecticuts Joe Liebermanto pare back the bill. And pared it was, with Obama and his fellow Democrats forced to bow to Baucus and Liebermans demand to scuttle the establishment of a public option that could compete with profit-driven, coverage-denying private health insurance corporations.
As Ive written in the current print issue of the Prospect, time plays a crucial role in the publics assessment of elected officials and their programs. A program thats slow to roll out and slow to deliver its benefits to the public doesnt usually benefit its authors in the election following its enactment. Similarly, a president who proclaims a bold program, only to spend months being compelled to hack away at it due to the obstinate resistance of a handful of legislators who have the upper hand in the proceedings, doesnt emerge unscathed from that process. Obama surely didnt, though his inability to persuade some nominally Democratic renegades to support the public good over their insurance industry donors was only one reason why the Democrats bombed in the 2010 midterms, losing both houses of Congress in the process.
My concern is that Joe Biden is trapped in the same dynamic that plagued Obama, with his polling dropping precipitously as the two Democratic renegades, similarly more in the sway of donors (and innumerate economics) than the public interest, are prevailing over the president and the rest of the party in paring back a long-overdue shift to bolstering the fortunes of most Americans. Indeed, Biden has publicly stated that with only 50 Democrats in the Senate, just one senatoror in this case, twoeffectively has presidential powers. What with Manchin compelling his fellow Democrats to halve their proposals (or, if he wont budge from $1.5 trillion, cut them to three-sevenths), and Sinema rejecting an increase to tax rates on the wealthy and corporations, theyve clearly diminished the appearance and actuality of Bidens power, whether thats their intention or not.
To be sure, there are other factors behind the erosion of Bidens public support, as there was with Obamas, and theres a distinct possibility that when the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills are finally passed, and their programs promptly (one hopes) implemented, Biden will rebound. But just as Baucus and Lieberman played a role in dragging Obama down and giving the Congress over to the Republicans, so Manchin and Sinema seem poised to have a kindred effect over the fortunes of Biden and their congressional colleagues.
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Sometimes, tragedy repeats itself as tragedy.