Joe Biden signed the CHIPS bill into law yesterday, making a massive investment in US manufacturing and bringing billions in new investment to American shores and an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 family sustaining jobs to American working families. It is the first of many new bills he will be signing in the coming weeks, a collection of legislative wins commonly thought to be impossible in today’s deeply divided political climate.
The success of the Biden legislative agenda is surprising, but what is perhaps more surprising is the circumstances under which he was able to achieve it. For comparison, here’s a breakdown of how Congress looked in the first two years of the previous two presidential terms:
- In the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, the GOP held a huge majority in the House and a narrow majority in the Senate, and in that time, his administration passed one law that could be called significant. That was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a huge (and permanent) tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, with a smaller (and now expired) tax cut for everyone else. It cost the taxpayers $1.9 trillion.
That’s it. Two years of massive majorities, and all the people got was a tax cut for the rich.
- Barack Obama enjoyed a significant majority in the first two years of his first term as well, with a now-unthinkable 70-plus seat majority in the House, more than 55 Democratic senators, and an additional two independent senators caucusing with the Democrats. This two-year period brought us the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and several other new laws.
These were substantial successes at the time, but most progressives saw them then and see them now as less than what they could have been, especially after Democrats allowed their opposition to water down the ACA through a series of compromises that history has judged harshly.
What makes the laundry list of Biden’s accomplishments most remarkable is that they are being achieved with the slimmest of majorities. Democrats hold only 220 seats in the House and have an even split in the Senate (instead of Obama’s massive majority). And President Biden came into office in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has disrupted the world economy in massive ways, and he is also dealing with the worldwide rise of right-wing authoritarianism and an American political right full of domestic extremists who are openly calling for violence in the streets.
Yet the wins keep coming anyway.
The pandemic stimulus package, a massive infrastructure bill, investment in manufacturing, the largest commitment to climate policy in American history, aid for veterans, and he managed to find time to take out the leader of Al-Qaeda as well. And it’s all happening at the most divided time in America since the Civil War.
None of these wins are perfect. No one got everything they wanted in any of these compromises, and there will continue to be shouting from the fringes on all sides.
But given the instability and chaos that has taken hold in our country, it is certainly safe to say that there may be no time in all of American history when a President accomplished more, with less.
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