I suppose I need some down-to-earth views on the Biden budget mess after Facebook’s bizarre name change — to Meta — had me floating somewhere in the metaverse.
And I have to say, it’s become something of a disaster.
Some in the media got carried away early Thursday morning when White House sources were saying President Biden was about to unveil a new spending bill — or “framework,” which is code for no real details — and all Democrats were expected to agree.
My immediate reaction was “That’s not happening.” There’s no way he could have hammered out a real deal overnight, just before leaving for Europe, even if he did delay his departure by a couple of hours. Hadn’t we been down this road several times?
But The Washington Post was really upbeat, saying this plan would be “marking a potential breakthrough after months of lengthy negotiations and stalled talks.”
On MSNBC, panelists were saying “this is a critical moment” and “this is a massive deal,” and that Biden “thinks” the plan “will be able to pass the Senate and the House.”
The New York Times was more skeptical — “it was not immediately clear if it has the votes to pass” — and so were Fox News and CNN.
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Biden was “laying it all on the line in the next hour,” said CNN anchor Brianna Keilar.
“We all saw this come to a head last month and fizzle out,” said Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich. “It could happen today.”
And fizzle it did, in the couple of hours it took reporters to reach some members of Congress. House progressives and the Squad said they were not on board — and remember, a swing of four to five votes kills the plan in that chamber.
When Biden touted the $1.85-trillion plan before noon ET, he delivered his standard stump speech about how great the bill is rather than claim some breakthrough. The press had been bamboozled.
“No one got everything they wanted, including me,” the president said. “But that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on.”
Biden may have reached an informal agreement with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, essentially by taking out everything they objected to. That included paid family leave, free community college, some climate change spending and most expanded Medicare benefits. No wonder Bernie Sanders, Pramila Jayapal and others were balking. And even Manchin and Sinema weren’t committing to vote for the new incarnation.
In an equally ominous sign, the White House seems to have thrown out most of the tax hikes to pay for the package — such as raising rates on corporations and wealthier individuals — because the two dissenting Democrats wouldn’t sign off. And Manchin is objecting to the new levy on millionaires and billionaires that the Biden team cooked up as a substitute.
The New York Times trenchantly reported Thursday: “As they hunt for revenue to pay for their sprawling spending bill and try to unite a fractured caucus, Democrats are attempting to rewrite the United States tax code in a matter of days, proposing the kind of sweeping changes to how America taxes businesses and individuals that would normally take months or years to enact. The effort has effectively discarded trillions of dollars of carefully crafted tax increases that President Biden proposed on the campaign trail and that top Democrats have rolled out in Congress.”
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OK, what are the chances of that happening when a tax overhaul usually takes Congress roughly forever?
I have to ask how Biden, the seasoned lawmaker, allowed things to reach the point where he is pleading for a last-minute deal because a failure would undermine him in his climate summit with world leaders.
If the president wasn’t going to able to get two of the Senate’s 50 Democrats to back his original package, shouldn’t he have scaled it back to something more feasible, rather than the original $3.5 trillion? And devise the sort of tax increases that the centrist Democrats could actually support?
Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that any one of the major elements in the bill would be considered transformational on their own. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain tweeted that, in real dollars, this is bigger than the New Deal.
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But if it ever passes, the focus will be on how much smaller it is than the original bill — even though nearly $2 trillion (plus the trillion-dollar infrastructure measure now in limbo) is gargantuan in size.
Biden has told both wings of his party that his entire agenda is on the line — and they don’t seem to care. Some progressives are risking the loss of several trillion dollars and could wind up with zero.
This is not just messy sausage-making. It is, for now at least, a massive miscalculation about what the president could get his own party to swallow.