Progressives are fuming in response to reports that President Joe Biden’s forthcoming official budget proposal will not include a public option, drug pricing reform, student debt cancellation, or an estate tax increase.
Fulfilling these campaign pledges is necessary to improve the lives of working people in the United States, left-leaning critics say, while reneging on them imperils the future electoral success of the Democratic Party by depressing turnout among spurned constituencies and increasing the probability of Republican victories in the 2022 congressional midterms and beyond.
As a candidate, Biden said he would: enact a public option to create a government-run alternative to private insurance plans; reduce the sky-high and life-threatening prices of prescription drugs; cancel up to $10,000 of student loan debt per federal borrower; and raise the estate tax, which affects only the wealthiest 0.2% of U.S. households.
When Biden unveils his official budget proposal on Friday, however, none of those initiatives—which were already considered inadequate by progressives demanding Medicare for All, at least $50,000 of student debt relief, and substantially higher taxes on the super-rich—will be included, according to the Washington Post, which spoke with four unnamed individuals briefed on the matter.
Observers slammed the Biden administration for its about-face, warning that the White House’s refusal to follow through on its promises will be the reason why “Democrats get routed in the midterms in 2022.”
When the Democrats get routed in the midterms in 2022, this will be why. https://t.co/f355uaUclZ— Matt Read (@Matt_Read_NZ) May 23, 2021
“Our budget reflects our priorities,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in response to the Post‘s reporting. “Fixing the broken healthcare system has to be a priority. Ending the student debt crisis has to be a priority, too. We need to keep our promises and deliver.”
The Biden administration, for its part, defended its decision to backtrack on campaign pledges. The White House’s argument is that the budget should “focus on advancing” the public investments proposed in Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, both of which seek to upgrade the nation’s physical and social infrastructure and raise revenue through modest tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations.
“The budget won’t propose other new initiatives but will put together the full picture of how these proposals would advance economic growth and shared prosperity while also putting our country on a sound fiscal course,” said Rob Friedlander, spokesperson for the White House budget office.
According to the Post, “the White House jettisoned months of planning from agency staff” because they feared “their initial plan could fuel criticisms that the administration is pushing new spending programs too aggressively.”
Instead of using his budget proposal to push for a public option or endorse progressives’ calls to expand and improve Medicare by lowering the eligibility age from 65 to 55; including dental, vision, and hearing aid benefits; and allowing the federal program to negotiate directly with Big Pharma to slash drug prices, Biden will ask Congress to implement policies to reduce the costs of prescription medications and increase health coverage.
Given the popularity of strengthening Medicare, including reforms that result in lower drug prices, some progressive advocates urged the White House to “get in front of” the issue.
“Lowering drug prices is the most popular part of the Build Back Better plan among Republicans and independents.— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) May 21, 2021
Everyone hates high drug prices, and the White House has to get in front of it.” – @alaw202https://t.co/1BU6hDy633
Perhaps the strongest denunciations of Biden’s retreat from campaign promises focused on his abandonment of a pledge to cancel up to $10,000 in student loan debt per person.
As Current Affairs, a magazine of progressive political commentary, noted on Twitter: “50k of student debt cancellation was the inadequate compromise; 10k of cancellation was Biden’s pathetic, outrageous alternative proposal. Now they’re offering $0 of cancellation, meaning that on student debt [Biden] might as well be [former President Donald] Trump.”
Jacobin‘s Branko Marcetic, author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden, asked: “If the aim is to avoid a midterm massacre, why would you do this?”
“The aim should be to get all the constituencies that brought you to power to stay energized, but young people aren’t going to turn out at the 2020 numbers without a raging pandemic and Trump on ballot,” he said.
In response to Marcetic’s question and prediction, Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson said that the Biden administration’s decision defies reason and undermines his party’s upcoming electoral prospects.
If the aim is to avoid a midterm massacre, why would you do this? The aim should be to get all the constituencies that brought you to power to stay energised, but young people aren’t going to turn out at the 2020 numbers without a raging pandemic and Trump on the ballot. https://t.co/GolPre5uHF— Branko Marcetic (@BMarchetich) May 24, 2021
Elsewhere, Marcetic expressed awe that Biden has been able to succeed “in pursuing his ‘nothing will fundamentally change’ vow while getting a nonstop stream of rapturous comparisons” to former presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson, who oversaw the implementation of far-reaching New Deal and Great Society programs, respectively.
Recent polling shows that voters want the federal government to quickly pass ambitious policies that improve life for working people. According to a survey conducted last week by Data for Progress and Invest in America, 58% of likely voters support passing the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan together using the budget reconciliation process, compared with 34% who are opposed.
Emphasizing that congressional Democrats are not beholden to Biden’s budget proposal, Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, told the Post, “It is the president’s budget request, but the House actually drafts the budget.”