While Trump’s outsize personality attracted constant media attention and caused his critics and admirers to overestimate the significance of his policies, Biden’s aides have adopted an intentionally understated approach designed to induce complacency. Bill Clinton negotiated with congressional Republicans to enact many of his most important domestic bills, triangulating between the two parties to find a third way. Barack Obama resorted to executive actions and largely failed to pass major legislation after he lost control of Congress.
Biden’s apparent takeaway from his predecessors is that Democrats were not aggressive enough at the beginning of their terms when they had the majority and the political capital to enact their agenda. He is determined not to repeat that mistake, and the result is aggressive liberalism playing offense. A more confident conservatism, building on its domestic economic and foreign policy successes in the 1980s, continued to exert its influence even when Democrats occupied the White House. Bill Clinton famously declared, “The era of big government is over,” recalling Reagan’s declaration, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Clinton negotiated and signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which included reductions in Medicare’s growth rate and amended Medicaid to allow lower provider rates.
Even Obama felt the need to include reductions in Medicare rates to partially offset spending in the Affordable Care Act, and negotiated the Budget Control Act, and its caps on spending and automatic sequestration cuts, after he lost his congressional majorities. Whereas the BBA, along with the dot-com bubble, helped produce temporary federal budget surpluses, today’s Democrats recently enacted a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and routinely ignore pay-as-you-go rules…
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