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Biden's spending plans: Good PR, but bad politics and policy

Biden's spending plans: Good PR, but bad politics and policy
© Washington Post/Pool

President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, as he approached his 100th day in office, was categorically a public relations success. However, the president’s words were fraught with peril, both politically and substantively.

On the surface, Biden’s tone was strong and optimistic. And for the first time in history, two women sat on the dais behind the presidential podium — a momentous image that garnered substantial press attention. In recognition, Biden opened his speech by declaring: “Madam Speaker and Madam Vice President. No president has ever said those words from this podium. It’s about time.”

While the night was a success in terms of the optics, the actual content of the president’s speech was potentially damaging.

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With regard to political pitfalls, Biden spoke of the need for unity to solve problems while also urging Congress to take up his sweeping progressive agenda, which has no Republican support and includes even more spending than what we saw in his first 100 days.

Biden was elected on a promise to bring the country together. However, the American Jobs Plan, along with many of his other proposals, gives Republicans little with which to work. Further, Biden made clear that he would move ahead with $6 trillion of spending plans he has rolled out, even if he does not receive a single Republican vote in Congress.

Indeed, the president’s promise of unity appears to be all rhetoric and no action — an inconsistency that, if it continues, will damage the Democrats’ electoral chances in the 2022 midterms.

On Wednesday, Biden devoted a great deal of time to touting his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, which involve massive government spending over the next decade or so. As Biden said on Wednesday, he plans to pay for his plans through tax increases on upper-income Americans and corporations, over which Republicans have balked.

In addition, Biden made clear the overarching theme of his presidential agenda: to bring back big government. Not only does this represent the antithesis of the Republican platform, but it will likely damage Democrats’ positions among moderate and Independent voters that the party needs to win over in the 2022 midterms.

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There were potential red flags with the substance of Biden’s speech as well.

Many of the sweeping plans spoken of — drastic changes to the economy, infrastructure, health care and expanding the government’s role generally — have not been evaluated for their practicality or feasibility.

Republicans have focused much of their criticism on how the president plans to pay for his plans — by raising taxes on upper-income individuals and multinational corporations, which critics have said will hurt our economy by driving corporations to do business outside of the U.S.

Biden’s proposals amount to about $6 trillion in government spending over the next decade or so, an amount that is likely to prove both inflationary and unnecessary.

Going forward, Democrats should break up these large proposals, starting with the American Jobs Plan, and work on achieving a bipartisan compromise on the true infrastructure components — roads and bridges — first. Then, the rest of the plan should be passed on an issue-by-issue basis, rather than under a blanket label of “infrastructure” which is both misleading and politically counterproductive.

Further, Biden should address family leave, free community college and other social programs on an incremental basis with Republicans. To that end, he should be prepared to reduce the size of corporate tax increases and reduce the size of any capital gains increase, in order to accommodate Republican lawmakers.

As investment asset executive and Obama-era auto task force adviser Steve Rattner said on “Morning Joe” this week, the key is the implementation of Biden’s vast social agenda — it is not enough just to pass an agenda, it needs to be successfully implemented.

I began work for former President Clinton in 1994 after a blowout defeat in the midterms, which cost Democrats the control of Congress. I believe the same thing could happen here and could even jeopardize the White House in 2024.

To avoid this, Democrats must heed the call for compromise and bipartisanship, as opposed to implementing, without planning, a vast social agenda that may or may not be necessary at this time. The U.S. is experiencing 6.4 percent economic growth and unemployment is hovering around 6 percent. Many employers report their principal problem today is finding enough workers to employ, given the size and scope of assistance programs that already have been implemented.

Thus, I implore Biden and Democratic leaders — before they ram through sweeping changes to the American economy and social safety net — to consider the practicality of their plans and to work with those across the aisle on an issue-by-issue basis.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael BloombergMichael BloombergThe imminent crises facing Joe Biden Yang: 'Defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City' New York mayoral candidates go viral for vastly underestimating housing costs MORE. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”