Uncle Joe inches to the left on social welfare, but takes too long to get where we need to go

April 8, 2021

President Biden, now in the seventy-some-odd day of his presidency, is decidedly not turning out to be the austerity-minded corporate-leaning centrist many progressives feared he would be. On the other hand, though a picture of Franklin Roosevelt now occupies a prominent place over the mantle of the Oval Office, Biden is surely not FDR, either – at least not yet.

For sure, the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan, chocked full of components of varying degrees of social welfare relevance, is no small potatoes. Neither is Biden’s infrastructure proposal (America’s Jobs Plan). The initial phase of this plan also comes in at roughly $2 trillion, and aims to address critical needs infrastructure of both a physical (transportation, broadband, electric grid, housing) and a social (research, training, job creation, caregiving) nature. Significantly, the cost of the plan is to be offset in part by substantive hikes in corporate taxes.

Yet the president is proving only too willing to jettison central elements of his plans in hopes of garnering support from the political right. Like Obama, Biden’s boss for eight years, the president is willing to sacrifice in the spirit of bi-partisanship, and to appease his own party’s right wing. Despite a campaign promise to secure a minimum wage hike, Biden dropped the provision from the American Rescue Plan without raising a fist to fight. And with discussion of the infrastructure proposal barely underway, Biden has announced a “listening tour” with Vice-President Harris, signaling that he’s more than open to “good faith compromise,” including compromise on the corporate taxes supposed to help pay for the plan. (According to some progressives, the $2 trillion proposal is already a significant compromise in relation a campaign promise of a $7 trillion infrastructure overhaul.)

If President Biden does indeed want to fashion a legacy that echoes Roosevelt’s, he will have to check his centrist, compromising, go-easy-on-the-corporate-sector tendencies. “Transformation,” a word the president is quick to invoke, requires structural change. A $15 minimum wage (higher would be still better) would begin to structurally impact the gross income and wealth inequality that now characterizes the U.S. A serious hike in corporate taxes (not just the tax rate itself, which the mega-corporations routinely beat via myriad loopholes), with revenues used to fund social welfare programs that meet real needs of real people, would likewise signal genuine structural transformation of the American social order – as did FDR’s Social Security Act of 1935, which altered the fundamental relationship of U.S. citizens to their government.

Polls indicate that the structural changes we need are broadly popular, among not just Democrats but a large percentage of independent and Republican-leaning voters. Let’s go, Uncle Joe, the time to make big moves is now. Set appeasement and compromise aside. Fire up the rhetoric and rally the American people behind a truly bold agenda.

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