Rekindling the American Dream of prosperity as a balm for a bruised and battered nation is the risky bet on which Joe Biden is doubling down, with his grand investment vision hanging in the balance in a divided Congress.
Early Friday the president hailed the robust employment figures for the month of October, saluted the first positive test results of Pfizer’s anti-Covid pill, and welcomed recent approval of vaccines for children five and older.
But the 78-year-old Democrat made clear his most urgent priority: to hit the phones and win over the stubbornly resistant lawmakers preventing his historic $3 trillion upgrade of the US economy and welfare safety net from crossing the finish line on Capitol Hill.
Party leadership in the House of Representatives began the day aiming to pass part of the package — a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill — after sending an even bigger social welfare plan, known as “Build Back Better” and worth up to $1.85 trillion, to the upper chamber.
But Democrats were forced to postpone the social spending vote after a revolt by moderate lawmakers.
“In passing these bills, we’ll say clearly to the American people: We hear your voices, we’re going to invest in your hopes, help you secure a brighter future for yourself and for your families, and make sure that America wins the future,” Biden urged in his Friday address.
It is an audacious gamble: save a democracy in peril — and bridge the divides dug deep by Donald Trump — by reviving the American Dream of prosperity for all, thanks to a massive intervention by the federal government.
– Working-class ‘Joey’ –
The president is fond of introducing himself as “Joey” Biden, a working-class kid born in Pennsylvania’s industrial Rust Belt to a family with Irish roots.
He often talks about his hard-working father, who was no stranger to financial difficulty, and radiates an I’ve-been-there compassion with struggling Americans.
Joe Biden’s goal for the twin spending bills, he repeated Friday, is to have them “end some of the anxiety” American families are feeling about the economy and the effects of globalization.
How? By providing them “millions” of well-paying jobs, reducing medical or child care bills, and guiding them towards buying electric vehicles made in the USA and running on renewed roads.
But the plans encompassing health care, education and the environment remain a fuzzy, even misunderstood clutter for many Americans as the administration has fallen short in its effort to make tangible the president’s vision.
Since the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, Biden’s approval rating has withered.
Dramatically complicating matters, the White House’s social spending plans do not enjoy unanimous backing from the Democratic camp in Congress, which has been entangled in weeks of laborious negotiations.
“Nobody elected him to be FDR,” exasperated House Democrat Abigail Spanberger said in The New York Times, referring to president Franklin Roosevelt whose sweeping New Deal pulled America out of recession in the 1930s.
Spanberger represents Virginia, which despite being a blue-leaning state just elected a Republican governor in a bitter setback for the White House.
Some historians see Biden’s ambitions as less emulating FDR and more aligned with LBJ, the Texas Democrat Lyndon Johnson who became president after the assassination of John F Kennedy.
Johnson launched the “Great Society,” the sprawling set of socio-economic reforms which gave the federal government unprecedented influence in the daily life of Americans.
– ‘Big government’ –
LBJ wanted to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the country’s founding document that included the “pursuit of happiness” as a sacrosanct American conviction.
Biden, perhaps more modestly, speaks of providing “just a little more breathing room” for working- and middleclass families.
Should he get a green light from Congress for his spending spree, it will be an undeniable victory one year before mid-term elections, which are traditionally rough going for the party of a sitting president.
But Biden’s reform bet is tricky, as the recent Virginia debacle showed. Where that election’s unsuccessful Democrat sought to make the race about Trump and national issues, Republican Glenn Youngkin, the eventual winner, focused on local topics, especially education.
And the governor-elect raised a bogeyman that seems to have won him votes beyond conservative ranks: that of an overbearing federal state meddling with school programs, family choices, and business — what Republicans pejoratively describe as “big government.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)