Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in 1995. (Photo: John Mottern/AFP)
Joe Biden is continuing the ignoble tradition of colluding with republicans while pretending to fight them. The latest debt limit drama is another betrayal of the people.
When Joe Biden was first elected president his propagandists and their friends in corporate media told us that he was “the most progressive president since FDR” and that he would “cut child poverty in half.” Yet the temporary covid relief programs have all gone, from the Child Tax Credit, to emergency SNAP nutrition benefits, to automatic medicaid enrollment, and all with little fightback from the democrats. Now Biden is continuing the democratic presidents’ tradition of using sleight of hand to sell out the millions of people who have already lost what little help they had. The republican bogeymen and women have returned just when Biden needed them to make the case for his plan to further eviscerate the social safety net and continue the race to the bottom which results in precarity for the people.
Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections in 2022 and now they get to do their worst. They point at their fake enemies, the republicans, and whine that they are being forced to do things they claim they want to avoid. The routine is pretty stale but it worked for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden isn’t straying from the tried and true theatrical plot.
As always, republicans threaten to shut down the government if the debt limit isn’t raised. Biden, begins like his democratic predecessors did, saying that a shutdown would be terrible and would destroy the economy. He calls names like “extreme MAGA” and says that his alleged opponents are all very bad and awful people. After that act in the drama was over, Biden then announced his willingness to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget. What is being cut? Not money for Ukraine, which is getting an additional $375 million in military aid. The republicans insist on stealing from the people, the poorest people, and after pretending to be outraged Biden is going along.
He said that he would accept republican demands that medicaid and SNAP benefit recipients be required to work at least 20 hours per week. According to the Congressional Budget Office some 600,000 people would lose health coverage and 275,000 people would lose SNAP benefits every month if these rules go into effect.
The game hasn’t changed much since the Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich agreements of 1995, or Barack Obama’s attempt at a “grand bargain” with republicans in 2011. Dissent within republican ranks saved cuts to entitlement programs and Congressional Black Caucus leader Emmanuel Cleaver dubbed the proposals as a “sugar coated satan sandwich” and later added, “This debt deal is antithetical to everything the great religions of the world teach, which is take care of the poor, aged, vulnerable.”
Now the highest ranking member of the CBC, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, says that democrats are willing to freeze spending, which would actually cut $1 trillion from the budget over a ten-year period. His justification is all too familiar, “We're willing to discuss freezing spending at current levels. That's an inherently reasonable position many in our party might even be uncomfortable with, but President Biden recognizes we're in a divided government situation.”
The CBC has certainly devolved over time, but Biden’s willingness to cut deals goes back decades. When Clinton was caving to Newt Gingrich he did so with Senator Biden’s full support. “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.”
During Biden’s 2020 campaign reluctant democrats were told that his presidency provided “harm reduction” from the very bad and evil republicans. But there is no harm reduction in a system dedicated to killing government spending with cut after cut. The recycled drama would be funny if it weren’t so serious. Democratic presidents tend to win congressional majorities when first elected but then lose control in midterm elections and that is where the dirty deeds are done.
They first proclaim themselves adamantly opposed to austerity measures but after a few meetings in a smoke filled room they announce what they call a compromise. They shake hands with their erstwhile opposition and then announce that all is well.
Now members of the CBC or progressives don’t even bother with pretend push back. If they say anything at all their words are muted and they defend the stab in the back as Hakeem Jeffries does. The 2024 presidential campaign has already begun and we can be certain that lesser evilism and harm reduction will be the democrats’ talking point yet again. Democratic presidents are like characters added to sequels that Hollywood churns out with a winning movie franchise. Just as in the movies the suspense is phony and the endings are the same, with the protagonists living to fight another day and doing the same thing all over again.
Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. You can support her work on Patreon and also find it on the Twitter and Telegram platforms. She can be reached via email at margaret.kimberley(at)blackagendareport.com.