After four years of arguably the most dangerously divisive presidency of all time, the United States welcomed back a familiar figure into the Oval Office, Joe Biden, with the hope of bringing back stability.
President Biden’s campaign was full of promises, including the promise to cancel anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000 of student debt per student, the promise to reverse the ridiculously expensive tax cut for the uber-wealthy that Trump passed in 2017 as well as the promise to pass both police and voting reform acts in the names of George Floyd and former Congressman John Lewis, respectively.
The centrepiece of his campaign and future presidency is the Build Back Better Plan, a plan that would overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, tackle climate change in a real and meaningful way, provide free childcare and child tax credits for poor families, provide free college education, as well as other popular measures that the American people are in desperate need of.
It takes a very optimistic, or even naïve person, to believe that most politicians – American or otherwise – are going to keep their promises. In America, political accountability took a sharp turn in 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Citizens United Act, a piece of legislation that said that financial donations to politicians were considered to be free speech making it legal to buy politicians.
That single piece of legislation altered the American political landscape – almost every powerful Senator or Congressperson now has corporate donors that incentivize them to prevent or pass legislation that will directly benefit corporations and elites. There are a few notable exceptions in the progressive wing of the party, but unfortunately, their numbers are still too few to mount any real challenge to the sitting powers.
President Biden, whether he will admit or not (and he will never admit it) has benefited from this arrangement. His inaction on this translates into how hard he fights to keep his promises to the American people, especially if those promises would force his donors to relinquish a fraction of their power or profits.
Take for instance, the centrepiece of his presidency, the Build Back Better Plan. Originally billed at 6 trillion dollars over ten years, it is now whittled down to roughly a quarter of the size, 1.5 trillion, because of two Democratic Senators holding it hostage at the urging of their donors. The most salient points of the plan have been cut – no more free college, no more paid family leave, no more reduced drug prices, and the far-reaching climate actions have been downsized to a joke. The donors behind these two Senators, and President Biden as well, including Big Pharma and oil conglomerates.
One could argue that such an expensive and extensive piece of legislation would never have been met without resistance, but what about the legislation that was far more targeted and far less costly?
The Voting Rights Act, for instance, would essentially have restored the teeth to the Civil Rights Act of the 1960’s – it is geared to make voting more widely accessible to every American citizen. But its passage was blocked by Republican senators who, despite being in the minority, were able to take advantage of the filibuster and prevent it from passing. Biden, as president, has the political power to remove, or at least reform the filibuster; but why would he, when his own donors don’t want him to?
The list of President Biden’s unfulfilled promises grows every day: some of them might simply take more than a year to fulfil, but some are becoming more and more broken. He has the authority to cancel student debt, but he has not. He has the authority to add justices to the Supreme Court and rebalance it, but he has not. He has promised that he would reverse the 2017 tax credit, thereby restoring trillions to the American economy, but he has not. He refused to take action on issues again and again, even though he can, even though he promised.
The question remains though, is anyone really surprised?
Maura Corkery – Politics Writer