The Progressive Democratic Steamroller
The $1.9 trillion spending bill is only a taste of what’s coming.
By: The WSJ Editorial Board
March 10, 2021
Democrats on Wednesday passed their $1.9 trillion spending and welfare bill that would have been unimaginable even in the Obama years, and the big news is how easily they did it. The party is united behind the most left-wing agenda in decades, while Republicans are divided and in intellectual disarray. This is only the beginning of the progressive steamroller, and it’s worth understanding why.
One lesson from the Covid non-fight is that there are no Democratic moderates in Congress. The party base has moved so sharply left that even swing-state Members are more liberal than many liberals in the Clinton years. Democrats lost not a single vote in the Senate and only one in the House. The fear of primary challenges from the left, which took out House war horses in 2018 and 2020, has concentrated incumbent minds. A second lesson is that President Biden is no moderating political force. Democrats in the House and Senate are setting the agenda, and Mr. Biden is along for the ride. He’s the ideal political front-man for this agenda with his talk of “unity” and anti-Trump persona, but he isn’t shaping legislation. He is signing on to whatever chief of staﬀ Ron Klain tells him he needs to support. For now, at least, there also isn’t much of an opposition. With a few exceptions, the media are marching in lockstep support of whatever Democrats want. The substance of the Covid bill was barely covered outside of these pages. Opposition to H.R.1, the federal takeover of state election law, is literally reported as a revival of Jim Crow racism. The business community has also been co-opted, as it often is at the beginning of a Democratic Presidency. Industries are trying to protect their specific iron rice bowls, but one price is their accommodation with the larger progressive agenda. Small business opposes the $15 minimum wage, but bigger businesses don’t mind saddling smaller competitors with higher costs. Big Oil doesn’t mind selling out independent frackers on climate rules. Despite their sizable minorities, Republicans are a divided mess. They stayed united on the Covid vote but they had no consistent strategy or message. They’re focused on the culture war over Dr. Seuss, while Democrats are moving legislation with huge economic consequences.
The House this week passed the most radical pro-union labor bill since the 1935 Wagner Act, but you wouldn’t know it from the muted GOP protests. The bill would erase right-to-work laws in 27 states, but the GOP has no media message to let voters in those states know.
This is in part a legacy of the Trump years, and especially the post-election meltdown. The party is still preoccupied with Donald Trump, who is preoccupied with revenge against Republicans who don’t bow to the Mar-a-Lago throne. Members are fighting each other rather than Democrats. The party also lost some of its intellectual moorings during the Trump years, notably on spending and economics. Right-wing anti-business populism has empowered left-wing populism, and too few GOP Members are able to make an economic argument. The prediction of an immigration border crisis has been the dominant message from Republicans on Capitol Hill or cable TV. That’s about it.
All of this is giving Democrats growing confidence that they can drive their agenda into law despite historically narrow majorities. They’ll pass huge tax increases on a party-line vote. They also still hope to peel oﬀ enough GOP Senators to raise the minimum wage, perhaps to $11 or $12 an hour, and for $2 trillion in green energy and public-works spending. Don’t be surprised if they succeed. Republicans counting on Democrat Joe Manchin to maintain the Senate filibuster may also be disappointed. He’s from Trumpy West Virginia, but he is also a partisan Democrat. He said he wouldn’t vote for the $1.9 trillion bill unless it was bipartisan but went along anyway in the end. As bills that pass the House pile up at the Senate door, the pressure to break the filibuster will be enormous. The media will turn Mr. Manchin into the moral equivalent of GOP leader Mitch McConnell. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, said this week that Democrats plan to bring two or three bills from the House to the floor soon. “We need some floor experience first,” he told the Capitol Hill press. “I think this is progression. First, try the legislation. Second, try modifications to filibuster. Then see what happens.”They’ll use the threat of breaking the filibuster as leverage to win GOP policy concessions even if they don’t formally rewrite the Senate rules. Politics is never static, and perhaps this momentum will ebb as Democrats lose the false cover of “Covid relief” for their agenda. But it’s no exaggeration to say the country is facing the most confident left-wing majority since 1965. This isn’t what Joe Biden promised, but it is what we’re getting.