Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Meet The New Guy, Same As The Old Guy

President-elect Joe Biden is pushing to keep impeachment from consuming his agenda and overshadowing the early days of his administration, as he tries to avoid the appearance of either promoting the proceedings or trying to stop them.

With that in mind, CNN has learned, Biden called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week to discuss the possibility of "bifurcation," which would be conducting impeachment proceedings at the same time senators work to confirm his Cabinet nominees and consider a sweeping Covid relief package.

It's the latest sign that with each passing day since the siege of the Capitol, people close to Biden say, he has become resigned to the fact that impeachment is simply one more crisis that he will inherit from the Trump presidency.

It's also the latest sign that the new Joe is the same as the old Joe. And that's not good.

In April of 2019, In These Times reviewed Joe Biden's role, as described in Bob Woodward's 2012 The Price of Politics, in the Obama Administration's negotiations with Congress to secure an infamous Grand Bargain. Branko Marcetic explained

Later in the negotiations, Biden dangled the possibility of Medicare cuts in return for more revenue — meaning higher taxes. Soon after, he suggested Democrats might be comfortable raising the eligibility age for entitlements, imposing means testing and changing the consumer price index calculation, known as CPI. (Means testing is often seen a Trojan horse for chipping away at these programs, because their universality is one of the reasons they’ve remained virtually untouchable for almost a century. It’s also been criticized for imposing an unnecessary and discouraging layer of bureaucracy.)

At one point, Biden reportedly called the Medicare provider tax a ​“scam.” ​“For a moment, Biden sounded like a Republican,” Woodward notes. Biden’s team was forced to remind him that such a move would force states to cut services to the poor, to which he replied, ​“We’re going to do lots of hard things,” and so ​“we might as well do this.”

As Woodward writes, ​“this was a huge deal” for Cantor (“Biden had caved”), and showed the administration had adopted the Republican view on the matter of the Medicare provider tax. Despite this giveaway, the Republicans continued their stubborn opposition to any revenue increases in the proposed deal.

The negotiations were ultimately scuttled by Cantor....

Although Marcetic/Woodward focused on Vice-President Biden's decades-long mixed perspective toward earned benefits, this narrative additionally highlights Biden's approach toward cooperation and bipartisanship.  The V.P. negotiated a giveaway which pulled the rug out from under Representative (now Senator) Chris Van Hollen, a fellow Democrat.  

Presumably, he did so in part because of an ambivalence toward Social Security and Medicare and eagerness to reach a deal, any deal. That's bad on two levels.

But there was additional motivation. The Vice-President wanted to cut congressional Democrats, especially Van Hollen (then ranking member of the House Budget Committee), out. Teamwork for Biden took a back seat to, well, Joe Biden.

Now President-elect Biden evidently is taking the leading role in working with Senator Mitch McConnell, who soon will be Minority Leader rather than Majority Leader. He does not appear to be working through his own party's leader, Chuck Schumer, who is set to take over leadership of the chamber as Majority Leader.

Bad cop, good cop is a tried-and-true game, and can easily be applied here. Have Schumer and McConnell negotiate with each other, just as House Republicans and House Democrats were dealing with each other in 2011 before Vice President Biden undermined his own people. It would give Schumer a fair amount of leverage because of his ability to tell McConnell that he would have to get approval from the soon-to-be President. 

As of this writing on Wednesday afternoon, the impeachment process is still in its early stages. However, it's not too early to suspect that in many instances, if President Biden has to cut fellow Democrats effectively out of negotiations, he will. If he doesn't have to do so, he may, anyway.



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