Every administration has a moment of maximum accomplishment and a moment when it seems unstoppable. We may have already seen that moment with the Biden administration.
After the success of the coronavirus stimulus package, it is likely that the next legislative victories will be smaller and more difficult to achieve. Think about the infrastructure and tax package. Even if it winds up scoring at $3 trillion (which is the least likely outcome), that will be spread over eight years, resulting in spending of about $400 billion a year. That’s impressive but is much less than the almost $2 trillion spent essentially immediately (sort of) by the stimulus.
It is also likely that the proposed tax increases will get bogged down and changed pretty significantly as they wander through Congress. House Democrats from New York (with the notable exception of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) have already sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi making it clear that they will not vote for any tax legislation that does not reinstate the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), which has the practical effect of transferring wealth from those in lower-taxed states to those in higher-taxed states, like New York.
The Senate Finance Committee has its own opinions about the appropriate international tax regime. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia wants a more modest increase in the corporate tax rate, from the current 21% to 25% instead of President Biden’s proposed 28%.
President Biden has even managed to get sideways with Candidate Biden, who promised repeatedly that no one making less than $400,000 a year would see a tax increase during his administration. Unfortunately for the president, utility bills ultimately pass federal taxes right on through to ratepayers.
That means that an increase in federal corporate taxes on utilities would get passed along to — and get paid by — ratepayers, even those who make less than $400,000 a year.
You would think someone in the administration would have caught that before it got out the door. It’s the kind of mistake typical of large organizations with inattentive management.
On the policy side, it looks increasingly unlikely that the filibuster is going to be breached, so despite generous use of the reconciliation process, most substantive legislation is still going to require 60 votes in the Senate. As a practical matter, that means the PRO Act, the Equality Act, H.R. 1, court-packing, statehood, and all the other items on the progressive shopping list are not likely to happen.
Additionally, the closer we get to the 2022 midterm elections, the more lawmakers are going to start to worry about their own election efforts. It is unlikely that Mr. Biden is going to want or be able to help too many members of Congress in tough races.
Moreover, the fundraising numbers from the first quarter — which Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas ($5.3 million) and Josh Hawley of Missouri ($3 million) dominated despite being tut-tutted for their roles in resisting certification of the electoral results — indicate the Republicans are going to be formidable in the 2022 election cycle. That is further amplified by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana raising the most ever ($7 million) for a person in that job. Even Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia managed to raise $3.2 million in the first quarter, which has to be a record for a freshman who sits on no committees.
The 30 or so Democrats representing suburban congressional districts previously held by Republicans are at some risk. Suburbanites are not idiots; they know that citizens pay for tax increases, either directly or indirectly, through reduced wages, increased costs or diminished economic activity. Mr. Biden’s proposed tax increase will be difficult to vote for and defend in those districts. The Biden team is likely to either lose on the tax increase in the House or lose the House as a result of the tax increase.
The odds are no worse than even that control of the Senate changes hands as well.
In addition to all this, the administration is jammed cap-a-pie with Obama alumni, many of whom were, in turn, Clinton alumni. They don’t have much juice left in the intellectual tank and are unlikely to launch a major regulatory jihad apart from attempting to ban internal combustion engines through regulatory collaboration with the automakers, some work around the edges of whatever financial risk might be posed by climate change (or more likely by governmental responses to climate change), and perhaps the usual ham-handed efforts on gun control.
The border crisis will continue to absorb a disproportionate amount of time and mindshare, and, left unchecked, eventually will swallow the entire agenda.
What does that leave? The inevitable foreign policy crisis: China taking Taiwan? Russia taking the Ukraine? Honduras seizing Maricopa County?
In short, the road gets tougher from here for the man from Scranton.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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