October 20, 2021

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Fit And Go Forward

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The Guardian

Why Republicans won’t agree to Biden’s big plans and why he should ignore them

The new president can achieve huge and vital reform and relief without the party of Trump – and they know it Joe Biden speaks to journalists before boarding Marine One at the White House. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters If there were ever a time for bold government, it is now. Covid, joblessness, poverty, raging inequality and our last chance to preserve the planet are together creating an existential inflection point. Fortunately for America and the world, Donald Trump is gone, and Joe Biden has big plans for helping Americans survive Covid and then restructuring the economy, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and creating millions of green jobs. But Republicans in Congress don’t want to go along. Why not? Mitch McConnell and others say America can’t afford it. “We just passed a program with over $900bn in it,” groused Senator Mitt Romney, the most liberal of the bunch. Rubbish. We can’t afford not to. Fighting Covid will require far more money. People are hurting. Besides, with the economy in the doldrums it’s no time to worry about the national debt. The best way to reduce the debt as a share of the economy is to get the economy growing again. The real reason Republicans want to block Biden is they fear his plans will work Repairing ageing infrastructure and building a new energy-efficient one will make the economy grow even faster over the long term – further reducing the debt’s share. No one in their right mind should worry that public spending will “crowd out” private investment. If you hadn’t noticed, borrowing is especially cheap right now. Money is sloshing around the world, in search of borrowers. It’s hard to take Republican concerns about debt seriously when just four years ago they had zero qualms about enacting one of the largest tax cuts in history, largely for big corporations and the super-wealthy. If they really don’t want to add to the debt, there’s another alternative. They can support a tax on super-wealthy Americans. The total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires has grown by a staggering $1.1tn since the start of the pandemic, a 40% increase. They alone could finance almost all of Biden’s Covid relief package and still be as rich as they were before the pandemic. So why not a temporary emergency Covid wealth tax? The real reason Republicans want to block Biden is they fear his plans will work. It would be the Republican’s worst nightmare: all the anti-government claptrap they’ve been selling since Ronald Reagan will be revealed as nonsense. Government isn’t the problem and never was. Bad government is the problem, and Americans have just had four years of it. Biden’s success would put into sharp relief Trump and Republicans’ utter failures on Covid, jobs, poverty, inequality and climate change, and everything else. Biden and the Democrats would reap the political rewards in 2022 and beyond. Democrats might even capture the presidency and Congress for a generation. After FDR rescued America, the Republican party went dark for two decades. Trumpian Republicans in Congress have an even more diabolical motive for blocking Biden. They figure if Americans remain in perpetual crises and ever-deepening fear, they’ll lose faith in democracy itself. This would open the way for another strongman demagogue in 2024 – if not Trump, a Trump-impersonator like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley or Donald Trump Jr. The worst-kept secret in Washington is Biden doesn’t really need Republicans If Biden is successful, Americans’ faith in democracy might begin to rebound – marking the end of the nation’s flirtation with fascism. If he helps build a new economy of green jobs with good wages, even Trump’s angry white working-class base might come around. The worst-kept secret in Washington is Biden doesn’t really need Republicans, anyway. With their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats can enact Biden’s plans without a single Republican vote. The worry is Biden wants to demonstrate “bipartisan cooperation” and may try so hard to get some Republican votes that his plans get diluted to the point where Republicans get what they want: failure. Biden should forget bipartisanship. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans didn’t give a hoot about bipartisanship when they and Trump were in power. If Republicans try to stonewall Biden’s Covid relief plan, Biden and the Democrats should go it alone through a maneuver called “reconciliation”, allowing a simple majority to pass budget legislation. If Republicans try to block anything else, Biden should scrap the filibuster – which now requires 60 senators to end debate. The filibuster isn’t in the constitution. It’s anti-democratic, giving a minority of senators the power to block the majority. It was rarely used for most of the nation’s history. The filibuster can be ended by a simple majority vote, meaning Democrats have the power to scrap it. Biden will have to twist the arms of a few recalcitrant Democrats, but that’s what presidential leadership often requires. The multiple crises engulfing America are huge. The window of opportunity for addressing them is small. If ever there was a time for boldness, it is now. Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a columnist for Guardian US

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