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Budget impasses mark a critical turning point in Biden’s presidency

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As Democratic infighting continues over their $3.5 trillion social spending legislation, the fate of Joe Biden’s presidency and the Democrats’ majority in Congress hang in the balance. 

While moderate Democrats have pushed for legislation with a significantly lower price tag, progressives have dug their heels in, refusing to vote for a bill that is less than $3.5 trillion. Progressives have also threatened to kill the president’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is scheduled for a final vote tomorrow, if the moderates don’t make a reconciliation counteroffer that is robust enough by their standards.

Ultimately, President Biden must act urgently, using his influence among Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House to ensure the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, first and foremost.

Simultaneously, the president along with Democratic leaders in Congress must develop a set of principles or a framework that will convince progressives not to kill the bipartisan infrastructure plan, and then work to negotiate down the size of the $3.5 trillion bill to something that moderate Democratic Senators — namely, Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — can get on board with. 

If not, the Biden presidency could be left in tatters, with nothing to show for legislatively on both traditional infrastructure and on so-called “human infrastructure.”

To be sure, the political stakes couldn’t be higher for President Biden and the Democrats. Biden’s job approval rating, according to Gallup, dropped six points over the past month to 43 percent, a new low for the president. Further, his approval has steadily declined over the course of the year — it stood at 49 percent in August, 56 percent in June, and 57 percent in April.

“Among elected presidents since World War II, only [Donald] Trump has had a lower job approval rating than Biden does at a similar point in their presidencies,” Gallup reported, also noting that “President Biden’s current 37 percent approval rating among independents is his lowest to date and 24-points below his personal high of 61 percent.”

To further complicate matters for Democrats, government funding is set to run out on Sept. 30 — which would result in a government shutdown — unless both houses of Congress pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until Dec. 3. 

At the same time, the U.S. is set to default on our debt sometime in mid-October if Congress does not vote to raise the debt ceiling, which would trigger a historic financial crisis — or an “economic catastrophe,” as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Last week, the House voted to extend government funding until Dec. 3rd and raise the debt ceiling, which passed with no Republican votes. Senate Republicans have now threatened to block the resolution due to the debt-limit hike — even though Democrats voted to raise the limit three times under President Trump — as a way to protest the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill.

Republicans are clearly using this political maneuver to box Democrats into a corner. A government shutdown would be detrimental to President Biden’s and the Democrats’ agenda, and Democrats need to avoid a shutdown at all costs. 

Thus, with Republicans united in their opposition, it is more than likely that Democrats will agree to a continuing resolution without a provision to raise the debt ceiling. This means Democrats will need to either find a way to raise the limit in the next month on a bipartisan basis — which is unlikely, given the Republicans’ posture — or they will be forced to go it alone.

Even if Democrats find another way to raise the debt ceiling without Republican support, likely via the reconciliation process, Democrats would need to put in writing the precise amount they are going to spend. In turn, this would force a number of Democrats running in swing-states and swing-districts in 2022 to make a politically detrimental vote.

To note, historically, some government shutdowns caused by Republicans seeking economic concessions from Democratic presidents have backfired on the G.O.P. This was the case when Republicans shut down the government twice under President Bill Clinton over budget standoffs — which likely played a role in helping Clinton win reelection in 1996.

However, President Biden’s and Democrats’ political position is far too precarious — and their entire agenda is in far too much peril — for them to bet on history repeating itself.

To be sure, we are at a turning point in Joe Biden’s presidency — and whatever he chooses to do next will make or break the Democrats’ chances of holding onto their control of government in 2022.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

Tags Bill Clinton Democratic Party Donald Trump Federal government of the United States Janet Yellen Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Michael Bloomberg Reconciliation United States debt ceiling United States debt-ceiling crisis

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