Democrats are growing anxious over their stalled agenda. There’s actually a lot they can still accomplish.
If you had told me a year ago that Joe Biden would be President, that the Democrats would control Congress and that, in his first year, Biden would reduce child poverty by half, I would have been giddy. That’s exactly what has happened and, yet, the focus has been on everything that’s not getting done.
Despite the Dem’s narrow margins, Republican recalcitrance, the durability of the filibuster and Joe Manchin, there are five big things that should be within reach.
First, make that progress on child poverty permanent. The expanded child tax credit, which delivers checks to families each month, was passed as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, but it expires next year. Since, it was partly Mitt Romney’s idea, this might even pass as a separate bill with Republican support.
Second, pass something, anything, on infrastructure. Negotiations are continuing among a group of what are now 21 Senators of both parties on a $1 trillion plan. Meanwhile, progressives led by Bernie Sanders are preparing to go their own way with a $6 trillion plan. That’s smart because it puts pressure on the Republicans to come to an agreement. The details aren’t all that important. Just pass something as big as possible that shows tangible progress all over the nation within a year.
Third, make some improvements in Medicare. Sanders has proposed expanding coverage to glasses and dental care and lowering the age of eligibility to 60. Doing all or any part of that would be great.
Fourth, dramatically expand the means-tested Pell Grant program to help families pay for college. I’ve never liked the idea of making public colleges free since that benefits families making $500,000 the same as those earning $50,000. Biden has proposed doubling Pell Grants based on family income. Congress should go at least that far.
Fifth, if Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, would retire, Biden could get a young center-left replacement on the court before the Democrats may lose control of the Senate in January, 2023.
But, here’s the thing. If the Democrats could do these five things, they may buck history and keep or expand their majorities in next year’s off-year contests. That’s because all of these things are tangible and popular. A year from now, families would be secure in the knowledge that their per child payments would continue, shovels would be in the ground building roads, fixing bridges and expanding broadband, seniors (who vote in great numbers) would be happy with their expanded medical coverage, and students and families would be seeing some easing in the cost of higher education. There’s something here for every part of life and that something can be delivered tangibly well before the November, 2022 elections.
Sure, I wish the voting rights, police reform, gun control and other measures could pass as well, but those seem beyond reach as long as the filibuster remains in place, and Manchin has said he won’t support its undoing.
That’s unfortunate, but it’s not the end of the world. A lot of good — both on a policy and on a political level — can be done even in the current environment.