Making Biden's year even worse
WASHINGTON -- At the end of his year of Old Testament afflictions -- the political equivalent of Job losing his camels and acquiring boils -- President Joe Biden might be muttering: Job was at least spared Sens. Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema. These Democrats, however, stand between him and the potentially worst of his self-inflicted wounds, the Build Back Better bill.
It is a sow's ear made from the silk purse of his election, which was the nation's plea for temperateness. The everything-including-the-kitchen-sink process that has produced BBB has completed the collapse of Biden's credibility, and his party's. The process has resembled Winston Churchill's description of an intragovernmental negotiation: Britain's Admiralty favored building six battleships, and the economists favored four, so they compromised on eight.
BBB treats all Democratic constituencies like baby birds with their beaks wide open. Including journalists: There is a $1.7 billion payroll tax credit of up to $25,000 for each local journalist an organization employs in the first year and $15,000 for the next four -- with the usual make-believe that this dependency of media on government will then end. The media will always proclaim their independence, but progressives' politics is always about multiplying dependent constituencies.
The promise of no tax increase for the 98.2% of Americans earning less than $400,000 came with an unarticulated caveat and an invisible asterisk. It meant no "direct" increases: Employees, shareholders and customers of corporations will pay all corporate tax increases.
Congressional Democrats' bookkeeping trickery -- pretending to assume the quick expiration of entitlement programs that they say are moral imperatives forever -- misstates by almost $3 trillion what Democrats actually hope to make BBB cost over a decade. BBB would add entitlements to Medicare while the 2021 Medicare Trustees Report announces that the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will be insolvent by 2026.
Five federal courts have blocked Biden's attempt to "work around" (his chief of staff's euphemism for "ignore") federal law with broad vaccine mandates. BBB would require that child-care workers (2020 average annual earnings: $26,790) be paid equivalent to elementary school teachers (2020 average: $65,420). This 144% pay increase would raise unsubsidized upper-middle-class child-care costs $13,000 a year.
Biden's banal response to rising gasoline prices has included directing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate "anti-consumer behavior" by oil companies and ordering 50 million barrels -- less than Americans use every three days -- released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. His indifference to his cognitive dissonance is hilarious: He says fossil fuels are an "existential" threat to the planet, and please, OPEC, pump more, quickly, because cranky U.S. drivers are an existential threat to something even more important than the planet: Democratic control of Congress.
Under BBB's raising of the cap on the deductibility (from federal taxation) of state and local taxes, 84% of the gain would be reaped by America's wealthiest 10% -- disproportionately, residents of high-tax Democratic-run states (e.g., New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California). This upward distribution of wealth -- one of BBB's biggest dollar items -- would mean for many wealthy households a net tax cut from BBB. That outcome would be perversely symmetrical with this:
The worst inflation in 39 years, fueled by promiscuous spending prior to BBB, has more than nullified wage gains by the working people to whose betterment the Democratic Party continues to profess devotion. Are these professions merely perfunctory? A bishop in an Anthony Trollope novel says, "It is very hard to see into the minds of men, but we can see the results of their minds' work."
Congressional spending has been abetted by the loose monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, which has continued to stimulate a recovering economy. The compliant Fed, acting akin to a third chamber of the legislative branch, has signaled its virtuous interest in, and its determination to be relevant to, the political causes du jour -- combating climate change and advancing racial and gender equity through employment "inclusiveness." Biden has rewarded the Fed's chair, a Republican, with nomination to a second term. This has been celebrated as proof of the Fed's "independence." A thought experiment: How, if at all, would the Fed have behaved differently this year if it were not "independent" of the political branches?
Biden's annus horribilis ends with him squinting forward. Longer-suffering Job looked forward to the grave: "There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest." If in 2022 the Democrats' congressional majorities enact BBB, they might earn, and certainly will merit, the restfulness of the political graveyard in 2023.
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George Will's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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