When you work in the White House, you reserve the most difficult decisions for the president. When the best option is clear or obvious, staff will sign off before reaching the Oval Office. While President Biden grapples with a pandemic, a stalled economy, and the unruly leadership of the GOP, every possible step is fraught with serious compromises. Like any president, Mr Biden’s success will depend on how skillfully he balances politics and politics, and his short- and long-term goals.
Mr Biden’s legacy will largely depend on how well he deals with Covid-19 and whether he can revive the economy. His promise to unite the country made him a candidate. With many voters viewing bipartisanism as a core part of his character, if she abandons him, there is a risk that if she abandons him, his central appeal to swing voters and others will be undermined. Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell is well aware of the president’s situation and seeks to force him to make a no-win choice between short-term success in legislation and long-term bipartisanism. Mr Biden’s challenge is to circumvent Mr McConnell’s trap – pursuing the robust pandemic relief package the country needs without destroying its relations with moderate Republicans that are critical to passing its “Better Reconstruction” plan will be.
Mr. McConnell plays the long game as always. He knows that Mr Biden will not cut back the resources needed to get the country past this long, dark winter. As the leader of a minority, he cannot prevent the Democrats from using the tools provided by budget reconciliation. He followed the same strategy when campaigning for tax cuts in 2017. He wants to make Mr Biden’s impending legislative victory as costly as possible and to show him publicly as evidence that the President’s declared commitment to bipartisanism was merely lip service. If Senators believe the President is armed Republicans with hard weapons, Mr. McConnell will more easily convince his GOP colleagues to use him to obstruct the rest of the President’s agenda.
This is not just an economic debate; It’s a political balancing act. The short-term risk of falling into a double-dip recession is far more dangerous than the possibility that inflation could return this summer. If the nation slips into another recession, the president will quickly lose his political capital. In other words, the country cannot afford to have Mr Biden giving up today for tomorrow, and Mr McConnell is using that reality as a lever. As President Clinton’s tenure made clear, tough, one-party economic solutions initially adopted by a government can open the door to bipartisan success across the board.
Even so, Mr Biden cannot ignore the political risk of steamrolling the GOP. A majority of Americans (especially independents) want him to keep his promise to work across the gang. If “Better Back Down” is the north star for this administration, Mr. Biden needs Republicans who will vote against the aid package to work with him on climate, infrastructure, education and more.