Six months in, two challenges could define Biden's presidency
Six months into his first term, President Biden Joe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE is finding himself faced with two major domestic challenges: getting both parts of his infrastructure plan passed and handling the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether or not the president can succeed in handling each of these crises individually and collectively will determine whether Democrats can maintain control of their unified government in the 2022 midterms.
Since Wednesday, bipartisan infrastructure talks have been trapped in limbo. Senate Republicans blocked moving forward on the debate over the bipartisan bill, which they say is because the terms of the legislation are still being negotiated.
Indeed, issues still linger over funding mechanisms for the bill, and the clock is ticking until the Senate’s August recess — the deadline the Democratic leadership has set to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with their $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.
By tying the two bills together, Biden and the Democratic leadership are engaging in a tricky and potentially detrimental tactical balancing act.
The $3.5 trillion proposal would vastly expand governmental social, environmental, educational, and healthcare programs, all of which would be paid for by tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and American businesses. The proposal is staunchly opposed by Republicans, and moderate Democrats will likely only support the reconciliation bill if the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed first — if even then.
Biden and Schumer need 50 Democratic votes in the Senate to pass the $3.5 trillion plan through budget reconciliation. Thus, they need all Senate Democrats — including moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin Joe ManchinWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema Kyrsten SinemaBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor CBC honors Black women advocates amid voting rights battle GOP blocks infrastructure debate as negotiators near deal MORE (D-Ariz.) — to get on board.
Yet, if the tenuous bipartisan deal falls apart, Schumer almost certainly won’t be able to get Manchin, Sinema, and other moderate Democrats to sign onto the massive reconciliation bill. Thus, the Democrats’ maneuver could easily backfire and leave Biden with nothing: No reconciliation bill and no bipartisan infrastructure deal.
In addition to infrastructure, Biden is also finding himself faced with the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 cases are once again rising across the country as the more contagious delta variant spreads.
Though a strong majority of new cases are concentrated in areas with low vaccination rates, there is also concern about breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated Americans.
These latest developments have led to major U.S. cities like Los Angeles to reinstate indoor mask mandates, and has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to rethink their guidelines on masking for fully vaccinated Americans.
And to be sure, as much as this is a health crisis for the Biden administration, it is also becoming a public relations crisis. The administration’s mixed — and arguably misleading — messaging on the effectiveness of vaccines was evident during a presidential town hall on Wednesday night, when Biden was asked questions about vaccinations and the new variant.
Biden’s answers even prompted Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst, to criticize the president for mischaracterizing the effectiveness of the vaccines.
“I was actually disappointed by President Biden’s…answers tonight because I actually thought that he was answering questions as if it were a month ago,” Wen said, following CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s observation that some of Biden’s assertions were “factually wrong.”
“He’s not really meeting the realities of what’s happening on the ground,” Wen said in reference to the rise in cases across the U.S. as a result of the Delta variant.
In terms of the healthcare-related challenges of this resurgence, the Biden administration is now faced with an urgent call to get booster shots for the COVID-19 vaccines approved under FDA Emergency Use Authorization — which vaccine manufacturers say would ultimately reduce the risk of breakthrough infections, and prolong the effectiveness of the vaccines.
To that end, the next critical step for the Biden administration is to ensure that these booster shots get approved under EUA — and likewise, that the original three vaccines receive full FDA approval — so that the vaccines can continue saving American lives.
Vaccinations have become the key to freedom for Americans, which was made possible in large part by the innovative developments of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Yet, current vaccines appear to be less effective against the Delta variant than against previous strains.
But, as pharmaceutical innovation leads to the development of better and more effective inoculation against the new variants, it is inevitable that these boosters will be widely available and deployed.
In addition, in the longer term, Americans are facing higher insurance premiums and prescription drugs costs, medical conditions that were left untreated during the pandemic, and potential long-hauler medical issues from COVID-19. Thus, the administration must also prioritize healthcare and prescription drug affordability, especially in a post-COVID-19 environment, in which chronic conditions may be heightened.
With the midterms less than 18 months away, Biden’s handling of these two enormous and high-stakes challenges will determine the Democrats’ fate in the 2022 elections — and may also define Biden’s presidency.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an advisor to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg Michael BloombergWhy Democrats' .5 trillion reconciliation bill is a losing game Democrats must win big on health care to have a shot in the midterms Stacey Abrams PAC tops 0 million raised MORE. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
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