The consequences of Joe Biden’s relief package

What do John Kasich and Bernie Sanders have in common? You would be correct in saying “not that much.” However, strange times make for strange bedfellows, and these are strange times, indeed. During the campaign season, their mutual willingness to accept then-presidential candidate Joe Biden may have felt like a beautiful moment for some, but a stinging betrayal for others. 

However, this coalition is hardly a Reagan Revolution or Obama Coalition in terms of a mandate. For many, President Biden fulfilled his mandate on his first day by not being named Donald J. Trump. Now that his purpose is complete, he is becoming privy to his new reality as the head of a slimy, back-in-control and ideologically fractious party. 

This reality is setting in as some items in the coronavirus relief bill are facing backlash and obstacles. The internal tug of war among Democrats highlights the ideological differences between the wings of the Democratic Party. The House’s $1.9 trillion bill was initially bargained down by moderates by lowering extended unemployment benefits and decreasing the eligibility for direct cash payments. Now, other progressive cornerstones have been removed by Senate procedures, to the ire of the left-wing. My own feelings on the minimum wage and some other measures aside, these measures are commonplace in the lexicon of progressives. Now it appears the only path to a minimum wage increase lies in Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Josh Hawley’s plan that requires employers to verify their worker’s employment status; hardly a progressive victory. 

Biden rejected an olive branch extended by moderate Republicans that would have secured an easy passage through the Senate. While its economic merits were debatable, it is what Biden needed politically to serve as “healer-in-chief” of a polarized country. Now, he faces a trade-off. Biden is sinking a lot of political capital into a bill that may indeed help the economy, but may also be the last major piece of legislation he passes. Perhaps it speaks to a commendable sense of altruism or strict priorities. But when life returns to normal, Biden may wish he reserved some political capital for other campaign promises. 

Taking the olive branch may have also helped Biden place blame on moderate Republicans for their reluctance to budge. Progressives and Republicans alike submitted amendments to this bill to force moderate Democrats to take stances on controversial issues. The blame for any pandemic plan’s shortcomings or any possible inflation now lies solely within the Democratic Party. 

The stimulus package has received criticism from economists and politicians that span the political spectrum for either its focus — or lack thereof — or its potential repercussions. 

House Democrats should’ve exercised more prudence when drafting this response package, if for no other reason than political considerations. The American public does not care if a bill is $1.9 trillion, $1 trillion, or $900 billion. They simply want to have their basic necessities filled, and there was more than one way to get there.