Donald Trump brought his own agenda to the White House. Much of it was not the agenda of the Establishment Republican Party. While Republicans attained majorities in the House and Senate in 2016, many were not committed to a Trump agenda. Many of his Cabinet appointments received scant Democratic support; many did not even retain his support. He had no experience in Washington. It took time - in the face of the Mueller investigation, Pelosi's impeachment mania, and a hostile press - to flesh out the policy implications of Make America Great Again. Honest historians will marvel at how much he got done.
The Biden administration is the polar opposite. With no leader emerging to challenge Independent Bernie Sanders in the first few primaries, the Democratic Establishment, led by Jim Clyburn, decided that Joe would be the face of the Party. He stayed out of sight and avoided policy positions. With plenty of veterans from the Obama administration, studies from a bevy of think tanks, and a coterie of special interest groups, the policy positions were staked out. But in the Covid election against Donald Trump a blank slate was the winning strategy. It should come as no surprise that the Democratic Establishment was ready to present their wish list - some of which can be done by fiat, some of which require legislation, and some of which will die a quiet death. Don't look for Biden to deviate from the Democratic establishment on anything.
It did not take long for the guardrails to be established in the Senate.
- With Rand Paul's motion to table any impeachment proceedings, it was demonstrated that at least 45 Republicans will close ranks. Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse favored impeachment, but will stay loyal on most other issues, particularly if Trump is not directly engaged. Any impeachment proceedings are simply political theater.
- With Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema supporting a filibuster rule (commiting to not vote for cloture), Mitch McConnell agreed to go forward with an agreement on Senate operating procedures and committee assignments for the next two years. Essentially, if Republicans object, 60 votes are required to move most legislation or appointments forward. The big exception to the 60 vote requirement is "Reconciliation" - a complicated process by which House-originated changes to taxes, spending, and debt limits (but no other matters) can be accepted by the Senate with a simple majority. That leaves plenty of room for financial danger, but policy decisions will require a measure of national consensus.
Elections have consequences, and the long Democratic agenda being rolled out in executive orders, expedited studies, and policy pronouncements contains much that Republicans and conservatives believe will be damaging to America. Others may differ, but this writer considers the following to be the most concerning:
1. Fiscal constraint. US national debt of $27 trillion sits at 130% of Gross Domestic Product, up from 35% in 1980, the administration seeks to add trillions more, and both Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are committed to printing money to goose the economy - for years. In the broadest sense, the Baby Boomers - in fairness, Trump included - are borrowing from our grandchildren to pay for today's pleasures while China seeks to dethrone us from global leadership.
2. Domestic order. There are many troubling cross-currents which invite federal government intervention: the January 6, assault on the capitol; the ongoing occupation of Seattle and Portland by lawless mobs; the "defund the police" movement; the restriction of free speech by the liberal tech billionaires who control much of the public discourse. A cooling off period is needed. Democrats will address half of the equation.
3. The Middle East. The "temporary" embargo on military sales to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is a watch out that the Left does not accept the Saudi-led coalition against Iran which Trump put together, or perhaps the recognition of Israel by its neighbors without including the Palestinians. As part of a renewed Iran nuclear deal, Biden may be willing to throw in the winning hand which Trump left him.
4. Energy. The Democrats are committed to eliminating the US global advantage of being the world's largest energy producer with the hundreds of thousands of jobs that represents and the low cost in transportation, manufacturing, and heating. The Paris climate agreement is symbolic; the Keystone XL Pipeline was predictable; the freezes on new leases in Alaska and federal land could have been anticipated. Elections have consequences.
5. Immigration. The Democrats have moved hard to the left from the days of the Obama administration when the border detention facilities were built, and millions of illegal migrants were deported. Amid porous borders and Honduran caravans, the Congressional fight will be about the legalization of the 11 million (potentially Democratic voting) illegal immigrants currently here.
6. Education. The teachers unions and liberal ideologues are set to have a field day in areas which are almost entirely regulatory rather than legislative: charter schools; common national standards; gender equity; and the rewriting of American history to ensure that our children and grandchildren understand our racist essence and the evils of capitalism.
Appropriate Republican responses will be topics for other days, but the common theme is to recognize that the policy agenda of Trump and Republicans was different from that of the Democratic establishment, that the 75 million people knew what they were doing when they voted for Trump, and that continued support of that agenda is essential for the country.
bill bowen - 1/28/21