Have Biden and the Democrats already hit their high water mark?

Have Biden and the Democrats already hit their high water mark?
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Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE, Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE, Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Joe Manchin should embrace paid leave — now MORE and especially Joe BidenJoe BidenPfizer CEO says vaccine data for those under 5 could be available by end of year Omicron coronavirus variant found in at least 10 states Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles MORE did it. The COVID relief/stimulus bill arguably is the most significant legislation since the Civil Rights bills of the mid-1960s.

It also may be the Democrats' domestic high water mark.

All the more important that the president went big (I wrongly thought perhaps a little too big), heard out Republicans who weren't interested in what was needed, and — with skillful congressional leaders — kept remarkable unity within the disparate Democratic caucuses; it was backed by the ultra-liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level McCarthy laments distractions from far-right members MORE (D-N.Y.) as well as West Virginia moderate Sen. Joe Manchin.


The $1.9 trillion measure will get the country back sooner to near normal, after the pandemic scourge, expedite school openings and accelerate an economic boom in the second half of this year. It will ease the sufferings of those millions still out of work, take 13 million out of poverty, and could cut child poverty in half.

There are excesses; there always are with major bills. The risks of going too big, inflation, deficits, are less than those of not doing enough.

To get anything else, Democrats must continue to paper over their internal differences or attract Republican support. Both will be very difficult.

There are plans for a second reconciliation bill — this one for the next fiscal year — this summer or in the fall. Fiscal-related provisions under this process can be approved with a simple majority.

Biden, during the campaign, and some Democratic moderates have declared after this COVID stimulus bill, the other stuff has to be paid for, principally by tax increases.

Some may be possible: increasing the corporate top rate, though probably not to 28 percent as the president proposes; boosting the top individual rate; and ending a few loopholes like the carried interest tax break for rich private equity executives.

That might get $1 trillion or so over a decade. To get a lot more, there are meritorious but politically powerful targets: treating capital gains, which primarily benefit the affluent, as ordinary income; a big increase in the estate tax, where almost all the benefits accrue to heirs of the rich; or energy or other business-related taxes. An easy one should be to give the Internal Revenue Service a bigger budget for more efficient technology and audits. Former IRS commissioner John Koskinen has told me several times that every extra dollar spent on enforcement brings in another $5 to $10 in collections.

But few Republicans buy any of this. Neither do enough Democrats — so tax increases won't come anywhere near what's required to pay for most of the priorities.

The president's campaign proposals would cost $1.7 trillion to $2 trillion for climate change, another $2 trillion in infrastructure (some overlap), another $1 trillion to extend the one-year increase in the child tax credit and earned income tax credit just enacted, and probably another trillion for bolstering health care, child care, and free community college tuition/college debt reform.

The few drops of any added revenues won't begin to fill the much larger bucket required for these spending measures.


It would be a bit easier if infrastructure could be resolved before any reconciliation. Long overdue investments — to fix crumbling roads, bridges, transit and airports — are critical economic investments that more than pay for themselves in the long run. Republicans, however, don't accept this, insisting infrastructure investments must be offset by other spending reductions, not tax increases, which always has been a deal killer.

The Democrat's ideological schisms — so expertly papered over in the big COVID stimulus bill — will intensify in the months ahead. Much needed immigration reform faces a bleak outlook, both due to Democratic divides and Republicans seeing this, given the problems on the border, as their best political issue — along with cancel culture and Dr. Seuss — against the Biden administration.

Liberal Democrats won't get the increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the $7.25 enacted in 2009. It may be possible to get an increase to $11 or $12 an hour with enough Republican support to break a Senate filibuster. The guessing now is the left won't accept that.

The filibuster rules won't be changed, though I still believe an exception will be carved out by Senate Democrats to enact national standards to protect voting rights. The appropriations process will offer opportunities, and most nominations — including judges — will win Senate approval.

It was a false hope that if Biden had gone smaller now, he could have gotten more later. The munificence of the COVID stimulus package, economically and politically, is a big deal.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.