“This day and age for all and not for one
All lies and secrets, put on, put on and on.” — Roland Orzabal
We have seen the first major legislative suggestion by president elect Joe Biden. He is proposing a 1.9 trillion dollar coronavirus relief bill that would pay everyone 1400 dollars, extend unemployment benefits, provide schools with money to help them reopen, and provide for a raise in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. There are numerous other benefits in there including aid to states, families, and potentially paid leave.
Now, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? In short, it’s about political capital. Every president has political capital and depending on the results of the election that voted them in, some have more than others. Biden has a mandate of sorts, but the mandate is really about not being a mad man. Beyond that, he saw his advantage in the House shrink and he barely got the Senate by the skin of his chinny chin chin.
So, the question is what you choose to spend your political capital on. Donald Trump didn’t have a ton of political capital. He lost the popular vote the first time around, so he had to create it out of good will. He was incapable of doing that, so he spent his capital on a tax cut. Obama spent his on the Affordable Care Act and the bail outs to revitalize the economy.
In economics, we talk about the concept of opportunity costs. The whole idea is that the possibilities are limitless until you actually make a decision. What do you want to spend your political capital on? The plan above would spend a lot of it. It would give people the 2000 dollars (600 + 1400) that Congress couldn’t seem to pass, and would provide for key measures to roll out the vaccine and help stop the spread of the virus. The minimum wage hike will likely be the battle that spends a majority of that capital.
These are routine discussions we used to have back in the good ole’ days. Is the 15 dollar an hour minimum wage a hill worth dying on? How does that compare with the idea of expanding health care coverage, planks from the Green New Deal, and other things he talked about in his campaign? How does it compare to the desire to hold people in the current administration accountable for all of the bad acts that have occurred over the past four years?
The first smart thing that Biden has done is separate himself from all of that. He has already named Merrick Garland as his attorney general nominee and with a 50/50 Senate he should get approved. All of that becomes Garland’s problem. Biden established that the Justice Department would be independent and would represent the will of the people. Of course, they have political capital as well.
The Justice Department has the resources and wherewithal to prioritize a few things in each administration. The tentacles of Trump’s illegal activities runs pretty deep. Are you only going after him? Are you going after him and his family? Are you going after close associates and aides? Are you waging a full-scale war against everyone that had anything to do with Wednesday’s insurrection? These are all important questions and ones that are not easily answered.
James Comey (the former FBI Director) suggested that Biden pardon Donald Trump. The suggestion is interesting even though it is not particularly persuasive. It goes back to political capital. Such an act might not only preserve some that the Justice Department has, but it might even give Biden’s some boost with Trump’s voters. It would almost certainly take some away from the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Biden would have to decide whether he would stand to gain more than he would lose. Like I said, it’s interesting but not particularly persuasive.
The best use of political capital is simply understanding why you are where you are. What exactly is your mandate? In the case of Biden, his mandate is probably one that would be similar to Pope Benedict’s mandate when he was elected to replace Pope John Paul II. The church had gone through major upheaval during JPII’s run as pope and the cardinals didn’t want another reformer. They wanted everything to stabilize.
Some of the American people want Medicare for All, a higher minimum wage, the Green New Deal, and other progressive planks. I suspect the voters that threw Biden over the top (keep in mind that he defeated Trump soundly in spite of the GOP gaining seats in the House) were the ones that just wanted a return to normalcy. So, he might be better off leaving some of those fights for the next president.
That might mean spending considerable political capital changing election laws to safeguard our democracy. Gerrymandering is a huge concern as the makeup of Congress doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Voter suppression is a huge concern as the makeup of Congress doesn’t reflect current demographics. Obviously, there could be a huge fight over absentee voting and other new measures. Congress could go in and put some of these new measures in stone before another would be despot tries to further erode the mechanisms of our democracy.
It’s a daunting list of priorities. People will be wise to temper their expectations of a Biden presidency before it begins. Some are more effective than others at getting what they want. Yet, a careful study of the last few presidents shows that you aren’t going to get everything. You might not even get most of it. We judge him on what he chooses to go after. Will it be worth it?