With obstructionist Mitch McConnell officially being ousted as Senate Majority Leader following Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections, many have celebrated that there is now nothing stopping Joe Biden from implementing all of his campaign promises and goals through Congress. However, Democrats still don’t have any clear majority, despite having both houses and the presidency under control. Besides reasonable and realistic skepticism that Biden simply won’t follow through on some of his more liberal promises in the first place, ‘conservatives’ in general still hold a noticeable majority in the Senate, regardless of party identification or caucus. Because of this, you shouldn’t expect much sweeping change under a Biden administration, and any that comes absolutely won’t happen with the help and cooperation of Congress.
Of all Biden’s promises and policy positions leading up to the 2020 general election, some of the biggest include his advocacy of expanding Obamacare as a public option style healthcare system, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, leading the government in an actually reasonable coronavirus response, and, recently, support of $2,000 stimulus checks that would phase out for individuals making over $75,000 a year. Now, let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and actually take Biden at his word, and that his first priority will be to immediately enact these policies. Even if that does happen, much of it is unlikely to go anywhere, and the face of who you have to thank for that is Sen. Joe Manchin.
While, on paper, Democrats do hold a one-vote majority in the Senate, this Senator from West Virginia is literally just a Republican cosplaying as a Democrat. In order for an actual, ideological majority, Democrats needed wins in elections in states like Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, to, at the bare minimum, counteract conservative “Democrats” who, more often than not, align themselves with Republicans. Manchin is objectively the worst of the bunch here, often ranked as the most conservative of Democrats. To give an idea on what type of person he is, Manchin opposes the current articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, has considered officially switching parties in both 2016 and 2020 (despite weakly denying it), and considered endorsing Trump in the 2020 presidential race. He’s voted with Trump the majority of the time, including banning any federal funding for abortions, providing $5.7 billion for a Mexican-American boarder wall, and confirming the nominations of unqualified and evil people such as Brett Kavanaugh and Bill Barr.
If you think Manchin will support Biden in any way, shape, or form, you are insane. He has even specifically opposed $2,000 stimulus checks virtually every other Democrat, including Biden, supports, immediately causing the stock market to tank. Just as a reminder: Republicans only need one vote from Democrats to block any and all legislation. That could, and probably will, be Manchin, but could also easily come from Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Sen. Michael Bennet or Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Sen. Angus King of Maine. This is also in spite of the fact that Manchin’s constituents in West Virginia have the lowest average income in the country, and need that money more than most other people. He specifically has a vested interest in opposing stimulus checks, minimum wage laws, and healthcare expansion; he comes from a family of corrupt pharmaceutical executives, and his daughter famously price-gauged EpiPens by 500 percent, effectively taxing people and putting them into debt simply for being allergic to something. He is just as evil as any conservative, and Democrats knew that they needed more than a one-vote “majority” to have a majority willing to enact policies advocated by Joe Biden.
This leaves only a few individual promises Biden can enact on his own — those that go through the executive branch, or can be achieved through executive order. Of his biggest, this includes rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and reenacting its policies on climate change, forgiving a set amount of student loan debt, and, of course, spearheading a competent coronavirus taskforce and response team. The Paris Agreement is undoubtedly the easiest and most expected, and, despite being the bare minimum, is one of the only things I expect him to attempt and successfully do. As for student loan debt, that does seem somewhat realistic, but there is still the debate between his proposal of only forgiving $10k or (now) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s $50k proposal. Of course, this also depends on Biden actually following through, which, considering that this is a relatively progressive promise, is a realistic fear and expectation to have. This leaves his beefed up coronavirus response.
While at this point literally doing anything would be considered a beefed-up response, Biden will probably be able to do something, but he’s promised to do next to nothing. He wants to set up only 10 new testing centers per state, wants governors to mandate that citizens wear masks, and isn’t expected to enact a national lockdown like he should, according to BBC. Considering even Democrats like Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor — famous for having a horrific pandemic response and then profiting immensely off of a book deal where he could claim he did great — are irresponsibly advocating the economy be reopened before vaccines are properly distributed, it’s extremely doubtful he’ll get cooperation from governors at all. Considering how little he wants, it won’t be hard for Biden to get this done, assuming these are all promises he actually made in good faith.
It’s not that surprising how little he wants to and can do, however. He campaigned so little on policy that I had to google every single one of these because of how rarely I had actually seen him publicly tout these and not bury them in his website. The L.A. Times may have put it best: Biden’s number one campaign promise was just to beat Trump. There was so little thought put into how to pass these policies through Congress and how in-depth these promises are because they were never a primary concern for his campaign. Biden didn’t run a policy-centered or pro-Democrat campaign; he ran an anti-Trump and anti-Republican campaign.
In that sense, he fulfilled his main promise, even if it’s not very substantial. While his campaigning almost certainly hurt Democrats down ballot — as most recently illustrated by Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock performing critically better without Biden on the ballot and choosing to campaign on specific policies such as $2,000 stimulus checks — his campaign winning in November was his promise, the same promise middle- and upper-class neoliberals wanted from Hillary Clinton in 2016. If that’s your concern, then congratulations! That’s already been done; you can go back to brunch now. For everyone else, sorry! You don’t pass go, you don’t collect your $2,000, but maybe you’ll have better luck next time, in 2024. Until then, Biden has little power to push legislation through Congress, leaving next to no hope that things such as healthcare expansion, fair wages, protections for immigrants, etc. will be passed in the early days of the new administration. For those who can’t afford the luxury of going back to brunch, it seems the best thing to do is start looking ahead to the midterms for stronger change.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Zach Gibson / The New York Times