Former Obama strategist explains why it’s way too early to give up on Biden’s presidency
As 2021 draws to a close, President Joe Biden finds himself in a position that recalls President Barack Obama around late 2009 and 2010, President Bill Clinton around 1993 and President Ronald Reagan around 1982. Biden’s poll numbers are disappointing, and he is facing the possibility of the opposition party enjoying a midterms wave election — not unlike Obama, Clinton and Reagan before him. But in an op-ed published by the New York Times on December 28, veteran Democratic strategist and former Obama adviser David Axelrod stresses that it is way too early to start writing an obituary on Biden’s presidency.
Liberals and progressives are expressing frustration that voting rights and the Build Back Better Act remain stalled in the U.S. Senate. After months of negotiations, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia recently announced on “Fox News Sunday” that he is still a no vote on BBB. That doesn’t necessarily mean that some watered-down version of BBB won’t pass in 2022 — one that Manchin and another decidedly centrist Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, will support. But Manchin has made it abundantly clear that he will not be voting for BBB in its current form.
“Joe Biden must be having flashbacks,” writes Axelrod, the chief strategist for Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “In early 2010, when Democrats lost a special election for the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat — and with it, their ability to overcome a Republican filibuster — Washington rose as one, an insistent chorus of grim reapers, reading last rites over the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama’s presidency. By then, Mr. Obama had been through six fruitless months of negotiations with Republicans, followed by fierce internal battles between House and Senate Democrats over the details of the plan. The Massachusetts defeat seemed as if it would doom the ACA, the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.”
Axelrod continues, “Twelve years later, President Biden finds himself in a similar fix. Sen. Joe Manchin’s sudden announcement that he would deny the president the critical 50th Democratic vote for his prized Build Back Better Act was a bitter blow.”
When Obama signed the Affordable Care Act of 2010 into law, it was criticized from both the left and the right. Republicans slammed Obamacare as “socialized medicine,” which was downright laughable — and progressives argued, rightly so, that it didn’t go far enough. Nonetheless, millions of Americans obtained health insurance thanks to Obamacare, which now enjoys more support than opposition in polls.
But as 2009 was drawing to a close 12 years ago, pundits were wondering: Will the ACA ever pass? Or it is doomed?
“No historical parallel is perfect,” Axelrod writes, “but the near-death and revival of the ACA is a parable that does offer a path forward for this president and his administration.”
Axelrod argues that just as the Democrats of 2010 compromised in order to get the ACA passed, it will take a spirit of compromise to get BBB passed in the U.S. Senate.
“In 2010,” Axelrod recalls, “some voices on the left vigorously argued that an ACA without a government-run option to compete with private insurers was not worth passing. Yet some Senate Democrats resisted the public option, so Mr. Obama passed the law he could, convinced it would still do enormous good.”
Axelrod continues, “For months, Mr. Biden has been trying to balance the expansive social and climate agendas of progressives with the reticence of Mr. Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and other moderate Democrats…. The math is the math. In a 50-50 Senate and an evenly divided House, there are obvious limits to what can be achieved.”
Some pundits are claiming that Manchin has killed BBB permanently, but Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland doesn’t agree. Cardin believes that some version of BBB can be worked out in 2022, although he acknowledges that progressive Democrats will have to compromise to get it passed.
During a December 26 appearance on “Fox News Sunday” (formerly hosted by Chris Wallace), Cardin told guest host Mike Emanuel, “We are prepared to move; we just need to make sure we have unanimity in our caucus, and that's what we are working on. And we will start on that next week when we return…. We want to see it as comprehensive as possible, but we need to make sure we have the votes to pass it. So, that means it will be different than some of us would like to see.”
Cardin, during that interview, sounded a lot like the Senate and House Democrats of 2010 who agreed to vote for the ACA even though they were disappointed that it didn’t include a public health option.
Axelrod notes, “Even after the passage of the ACA, some voices on the left called it a failure because it did not include the public option we could not win. Tell that, today, to all the Americans with pre-existing conditions who can no longer be refused coverage or be gouged by insurance companies…. The ACA was no shield for Mr. Obama and Democrats in 2010. But if, through a retooled Build Back Better Act, Mr. Biden can achieve significant and durable progress on some major priorities that will benefit children and families for generations, Democrats would be wise to celebrate and tout those gains instead of complaining about what wasn’t possible.”
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