opinion | Most productive inactive Congress ever

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Is everything the Democrats dreamed of? Not by a long shot.

But it is major progress – all the more notable for the fact that it is taking place under an equally divided Senate. It flies in the face of the prevailing narrative that Washington is irreparably broken and that President Biden is a nostalgic old idiot, even trying to reach the aisle. Whatever happens on cable news now, historians of Mr. Biden’s first term have to admit that a surprising amount happened.

Of course, we are passing through a toxic and deeply polarized era in which some politicians prefer to see the country fail rather than help the opposite party succeed. But as compelling as the irresistible narrative is, it may be a bit much. Obstacles have limits. Even those winning elected office may be fed up with the impasse. Consider what happened when Mitch McConnell tried to take the Chips Act hostage for political reasons. It didn’t work, partly because a lot of Republicans had worked on it and wanted it to pass.

And it may be that Mr Biden’s original, comprehensive Build Back Better plan failed not because of interruption, but because the country was not sold everything In this. When this slow death came, many Democratic voters were dismayed. The president’s popularity sank poll numbers.

But that does not mean that nothing was being done. For the past two years, lawmakers have focused on things like those working on a series of bipartisan bills that have been on the country’s to-do list for years. Some people who threw red meat on the base with one hand were also quietly making bipartisan deals with the other. To expand health care benefits to veteranswhat is said to be safe Largest ever investment in public transport And Protecting local and tribal governments from cyber attacks,

According to Jason Grummet, president and founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center, over the past two years fifty senators have taken the lead in one or more of 16 important bipartisan initiatives. Eight of his bills have become law, and the lame ducks could pass more in session. The 50-50 Senate meant that whatever passed had to be bipartisan, with at least 10 Republicans in support. It was harder than before, but not impossible.

“Democracy is badly damaged, but it is not broken,” Mr. Grumett told me.

Alas, it is a function of our hyperpartisan era that such productivity is often kept secret, Many politicians feel that they have been elected to fight rather than compromise. It’s not a good idea to talk about working with the other party.

This leaves the public with the impression that their government is far more broken than it actually is, and it deprives voters of the hope that it could ever change. The notion of endless, absolute deadlock is just not wrong. it’s dangerous. This is causing Americans to – and people around the world , to lose faith in democracy As a model of governance.

Politically speaking, while Democrats control the White House and both houses in Congress, the widespread notion of a government doing nothing has also been self-defeating.

Democrats have spent much of the past year battling the notion that they were helpless in the face of Republican (or Cinemanchean) obstructionism, so much so that many activists working hard to elect Democrats began to wonder why they bothered. .

But the party persisted. Build Back Better remained on covert life support throughout the winter and early spring. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Visited Laboratories in West Virginia with Joe Manchin, the infamous holdout. Brian Deez, director of the National Economic Council, zip-lining with him. Even though the talks have been pronounced dead several times, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continued to find a slimmed-down version that Mr Manchin could live with.

Now, after years of bipartisan progress where they could, Democrats are on the verge of achieving two more big things on the party-line vote. What does Bill Gates cover in the Inflation Reduction Act? as described “The Most Important Piece of Climate Law in American History.” This is a confirmation of the approach of both the wings of the Democratic Party. Progressives prioritize climate. The Moderates patiently struck the deal that led to it.

Will it do everything climate activists hoped? Not at all But it is possible now.

“Finally, a climate bill has passed the Senate,” tweeted Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement. “This is not the bill my generation deserves, but it is one we can get. We have to pass it to give us a chance to fight in a habitable world.”

The Inflation Reduction Act would also make it possible for the government to negotiate the price of drugs for Medicare patients, a common-sense but insanely out-there goal for which groups like the AARP have been fighting since at least the 2000s. Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to do so. He didn’t do it. Democrats did.

Will this fact reach the voters? It is not clear. News of these Democratic victories was quickly drowned out by coverage of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. The extent to which these legislative achievements are being discussed is in the context of mid-term elections. “Joe Biden’s presidency is suddenly back from the dead,” New York magazine announcedThe Intelligencer. “Biden approval rating jumps to its highest level in two months,” read the headline of an article in The Hill two-percentage-point collision in elections.

Okay.

But even if today’s voters don’t stick to the wider legacy of these bills, generations to come will.

“These achievements will not rival FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society programs, which truly changed the political and policy landscape for decades,” Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, told me. “Yet in light of what was expected to be incremental change at best, Biden’s achievements are on par with JFK’s New Frontier legislation — somewhere between changing policies around the edge and wholesale rehashing of the US government.”

This build back is not as big as Better. But it’s still big. It is shooting the moon and landing among the stars. This is a good thing not only for Joe Biden and the Democrats, but also for the country and democracy.

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