- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2021

President Biden’s vision for the nation came into clearer focus now that a Democratic-run Washington put impeachment to bed and his administration took center stage with a policy platform touching on issues from taxes and transportation to the economy, energy and immigration.

The spotlight and the political arrows that come with it promise a reality check on the bipartisan chops Mr. Biden brags about as he seeks to strike deals with Republicans, cater to his party’s left flank and carve out legislation on thorny issues.

“His biggest challenge is he has to get control of the virus,” said Elaine C. Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and longtime Democratic activist. “What happens with the virus is going to set the parameters for everything else.”

Mr. Biden’s ambitious agenda includes:

• Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour;

• Opening a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants;

• Rolling back the 2017 Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans;

• Increasing the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28%;

• Setting a goal for the U.S. to go to 100% clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050;

• Spending $2 trillion to rebuild America’s highways, bridges, airports and other infrastructure.

Mr. Biden had some early wins in unwinding parts of the Trump legacy through executive orders, which have pleased his base and angered Republicans.

He also saw some Cabinet nominees confirmed in the Senate, though more battles are set to play out.

The top item on his legislative to-do list is getting Congress to sign off on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package before enhanced federal unemployment benefits run out on March 14.

Mr. Biden plans this week to pitch voters on his vision during his first official trip outside Washington as the nation’s 46th president.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden heads to Milwaukee for a CNN town hall-style event. On Thursday, he goes to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to meet with workers responsible for producing a coronavirus vaccine.

While some Republicans outside Washington, including West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, have voiced support for Mr. Biden’s big-spending relief plan, the president has failed to win GOP support in Congress.

Foreseeing partisan gridlock, Democrats paved the way for the bill’s passage through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow Senate Democrats to pass the legislation without a single Republican vote.

Reconciliation, however, is a once-a-year proposition and can be used only for measures related to taxes and spending.

So Mr. Biden is going to need Republican buy-in on other policy plans to overcome Senate filibusters, which require legislation to receive 60 votes to survive.

“Now that Trump impeachment is over, it’s likely that Democrats will get most of what they want by immediately passing the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package by a majority vote through the Senate reconciliation process,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist.

“Without Trump to unify them, Democrats will likely find that its one-party rule of Washington and a 60-vote Senate threshold will make implementing the rest of the Biden agenda extremely difficult.”

Prospects of a new era of bipartisanship took a hit over the weekend when the Senate voted 57-43 to acquit former President Donald Trump on impeachment charges of inciting the Jan. 6 rampage at the U.S. Capitol.

Robert Reich, an economist and labor secretary in the Clinton administration, captured the sentiment of those who were left dumbfounded that just seven Republicans voted to convict Mr. Trump.

“Forget unity. Forget bipartisanship. Forget compromise,” Mr. Reich said on Twitter. “This is Trump’s mob. Eliminate the filibuster and get everything America needs done now.”

Others struck a more optimistic note.

“I see that as the GOP has some people in it who are willing to break with the Trump cult spell,” Ms. Kamarck said.

“Obviously he would be in better shape if he had 57 Democrats in the Senate, but the fact is he has a real chance to actually accomplish something because Democrats are in control of the Senate and there are Republicans eager to turn the page on the Trump era,” she said
Mr. Biden also must keep the various wings of the Democratic Party and its allies unified.

Teachers unions already have tripped up his plans to reopen schools in his first 100 days, a pledge he has since walked back.

The next fight could center on the $15 federal minimum wage he included in his coronavirus relief package.

Progressive liberals in the House say it is long overdue.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of New York oppose the idea, fueling speculation as to whether it could pass even as part of a reconciliation package.

Without Republican support, passage would require the support of all 50 Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

Some have questioned Mr. Biden’s commitment to the federal wage increase from $7.25 an hour.

Mr. Manchin and Ms. Simena also have faced blowback from the party’s left wing over their opposition to eliminating the legislative filibuster as a way to circumvent the GOP.

Mr. Biden will have a chance to define his plans in his first address to a joint session of Congress, which is expected this month. Lawmakers will be looking for him to shed more light on his plans, including on infrastructure, criminal justice and health care.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights advocacy group, said Mr. Biden can “undo the cruelty” of the Trump administration through a combination of executive actions and pushing Congress to approve legislation expected to be introduced soon that calls for a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

If the filibuster stays in place, however, it will be a major challenge for Mr. Biden to pass his initial plan through Congress.

“The prospect of getting 10 Republican votes for some semblance of humane immigration reform will be tested, but few advocates think it’s realistic,” Mr. Sharry said. “Hell, only seven Republican senators voted to convict a president who ordered an armed attack on them.

“If Democrats eliminate or reform the filibuster, it would have a shot,” he said.

Mr. Biden will face fierce opposition on immigration, as well as in his push to enact “common-sense” gun restrictions, a public health insurance option and higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.

There is a lingering belief that Mr. Biden’s appeals for bipartisanship could have more luck on infrastructure spending, though most recent presidents including Mr. Trump and Barack Obama couldn’t make headway on pricey infrastructure plans despite its popularity on both sides of the aisle.

Mr. Biden vowed on the campaign trail to invest more than $2 trillion in the nation’s roads and bridges, and he met with Senate Republicans last week at the White House to discuss a possible bipartisan approach.

“I really, honest to God, never have thought of infrastructure as being a partisan issue,” Mr. Biden said during the meeting.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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