The Biden administration is in danger of death. Stuck by circumstance, Democrats have gambled almost their entire national agenda on the passage of two massive bills, the trillion dollar infrastructure package and the 3.5 trillion dollar reconciliation package.
Both are now in serious trouble because moderates and Progressive Democrats are nowhere near agreeing on what should be in the bills, how much they should cost, or even when they should be voted on. If these bills collapse, Democrats will fail as a governing majority, and Donald Trump will be much more likely to win the presidency in 2024.
We don’t want that, so the question is, how can moderate and progressive Democrats create a whole that they can both live with? The best way to do this is to build on the best ideas from each party.
The best progressive idea is that we need a really big package right now.
Joe Manchin, one of the main moderates, argues that the $ 3.5 trillion package is too big. The economy is already growing. Inflation is already on the rise. The national debt is already gigantic. We don’t need another flood of deficit-inflated spending. We should stop and think about it.
The American people largely agree with Manchin. An Axios poll found that 64% of Americans living in the suburbs favor a strategic break while only 36% oppose it (in urban areas, 53% support large-scale social spending while 47% support a pause).
But Manchin and those who support his position miss the big picture. We are a nation in decline. We are in decline because we have become an extremely unequal, class-divided society in which tens of millions of people feel alienated, disillusioned, suspicious and left out.
Progressives have a strategy to reverse America’s decline: to redistribute money to people without a college degree. Make health care more affordable so that people have a stable foundation on which to build their lives. Offer child tax credits so parents have more options. Extend free public education for four years so that future generations are better equipped.
It is a plausible strategy and it is time to implement it now. There are rare critical moments in history. Covid has exposed the tears in America’s social fabric and made Americans more enthusiastic about government spending. If we can add, say, $ 4 trillion to the roughly $ 5.3 trillion in Covid relief spending that has already been spent, we will at least have made a huge effort to heal the disruptions plaguing American society.
The moderate key idea is that we are America, not Europe. We are primarily a border nation fueled by immigrants. We place great importance on individual effort, hard work and mobility. We are hostile to centralized power. These values have made America more inegalitarian and cruel than Europe, but also much richer, more innovative and more productive.
Moderates are right to point out that a newly expanded welfare state should follow the thread of American values, not against them.
We shouldn’t be handing out huge benefits to people without asking for anything in return, like job and education requirements. A recent YouGov / American Compass poll found that only 28% of voters said they supported a permanent child tax credit that went to people whether they worked or not. The history of welfare reform over the past decades shows that there are better outcomes for children when governments help parents enter the workforce.
We shouldn’t centralize power in Washington, pump more money into badly needed federal programs, or rig personal choices to suit professional class preferences. There is ample evidence to suggest that high-quality preschool education for ages 3 to 5 can produce long-term gains. But Head Start has been suffering for decades and needs to be transformed, not strengthened. Even we champions of early childhood education have to admit that there is evidence that when done badly it can have negative or no effect. The government should give parents more resources to make decisions based on what is best for their own children.
We must not delude ourselves that we are going to create a European-style welfare state on this side of the Atlantic. The Danes were apparently happy to spend 46% of their GDP on taxes in 2019, to contribute to their social benefits. In the United States, the 50-year average federal tax-to-GDP ratio was 17%, and as James Pethokoukis points out in his The Week column, even if Democratic bills were passed, it would only increase by 19% in the coming years. decade. Americans prefer to control their own resources, so we will never have the kind of cradle-to-grave system that Europeans settle for.
The result is that we need a big shake up to heal the nation, but each piece should be aimed at building a society in which if you work hard you will make progress. We should drop provisions like expanding medicare and doubling preschool, community colleges, infrastructure, green energy jobs and the child tax credit.
Safety from the cradle to the grave should not be the theme. It should give people an open field and a fair chance to be better capitalists, the pioneers of their own destiny. America will reverse the decline with gradual measure in its reach and moderate in its values.