Have you met Leo from Peoria? If not, he’ll help you understand why Congress must salvage President Biden’s floundering social-welfare agenda and get America back on track.
Leo and his mom Linda are cartoon characters who play starring roles in Biden’s new “Build Back Better Framework.” You might be wondering what’s new about this framework, since Biden has been promising to “build back better” for nearly two years and Congress has been working on legislation since Biden took office in January.
The new part is that the latest framework is a lot smaller than Biden’s prior plans. Democrats with wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate couldn’t pass Biden’s original request for $3.5 trillion in new spending on green energy and social programs, so Biden has slashed his ask down to about $1.8 trillion in new spending over a decade. The skinnier framework has a better chance of passing than the overstuffed package Biden started with, but it’s no shoo-in.
Also new: A White House effort to humanize and simplify a legislative monstrosity few Americans fully comprehend. That’s where Leo and Linda come in. We first meet Linda, clad in hard-hat and tool belt, as she’s pregnant with Leo and working in some kind of manufacturing plant. Leo is born. He grows up, goes to trade school, gets a job as a unionized wind-turbine technician and dutifully takes care of his mom as she ages.
All along the way, Leo and Linda benefit from policies Biden is trying (and struggling) to pass now. Linda receives the expanded child tax credit, which boosts her after-tax income by $3,600 per year (at an annual cost to taxpayers of about $100 billion). She gets child care subsidies ($25 billion per year) and Leo attends a free pre-school program ($17 billion). After high school, Leo gets subsidies to attend a community college ($29 billion). His wind-turbine job is one of 4 million created by Biden’s green-energy investments ($56 billion). Finally, when Linda gets old, she qualifies for new Medicare benefits and subsidized elder care ($40 billion).
Get it now? Leo and Linda will have a stable, fulfilling life because of the Build Back Better framework. And since you now realize how crucial Biden’s plans are to earnest, hardworking Americans like Leo and Linda, you will demand your representatives in Congress pass legislation that otherwise may die on account of overcomplexity and voter confusion.
Biden needs Leo and Linda as a counter-narrative to his Democratic allies in Congress, who are on the verge of becoming farcical. The story is familiar by now, but to recap: liberals and moderates in the Democratic party are warring among themselves about how much money to spend on social programs. Liberal progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal are taking an all-or-nothing approach: If their party won’t approve the full $3.5 trillion Biden wanted at the outset, they won’t accept any compromise.
As a result, a second large bill—the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill—is in jeopardy simply because Democrats won’t approve it. The Senate has already passed the bill, and all the House has to do is approve it on a party-line vote, which would give Biden a major legislative victory. But a handful of progressives say they’ll vote the infrastructure bill down unless they get everything they’re demanding on the social-welfare bill. Exasperated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi keeps blowing deadlines for passing bills Democrats supposedly favor because Democrats themselves won't vote for them. If Congressional Democrats had their own cartoon mascot, it would be Wile E. Coyote, who always finds a way to lose, no matter what.
It’s easy at this point to lampoon the Biden presidency as a cartoonish enterprise dumbing down its pitch to voters in a desperate effort to salvage something Biden can declare as a win. Biden’s approval rating is sinking and his quarrelsome party increasingly seems headed for a shellacking in the 2022 midterm elections. The self-immolation of the Democratic party has supplanted the treachery of the Trump-dominated Republican mafia as the nation’s top political soap opera.
Biden could still prevail. Many analysts see the Democratic infighting as fairly typical legislative sausage-making that’s more fraught than usual simply because Democratic majorities are so narrow. If Biden does get something like a $1.8 trillion social-welfare bill in the end, it could still be transformative legislation directing huge new sums to social programs and green-energy transformation. If he could get that kind of win in the bag, his ratings might improve and his party might look less ridiculous as the 2022 midterms draw near.
For now, however, Democrats look inept and Leo and Linda are in trouble. Linda might have to tough it out as a working parent without much government help, and Leo might have to compete in the cutthroat private sector to earn a decent living. It’s a cliffhanger.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.