President Joe Biden made some political gains Thursday night when he talked to Americans in a town hall meeting on CNN to explain what’s in his “Build Back Better” plan and answer questions about the idling Democratic Congress.
But he’ll have to repeat that message again and again if he is to convince Americans to support the proposal that has been described as leveling the playing field for the middle class.
The Biden administration has been weak providing simple understandable details of the plan that only seems to be on the radar of policy wonks due to its complexity. On Thursday, Biden explained parts of it: Day care subsidies that will limit day care costs to 7 percent of one’s income; expanding the child tax credit for another year that put $300 a month into the pocket of working families with children; an $800 voucher to help Medicare recipients pay for dental service and make it easy to buy hearing aids from Walgreens; and paid family leave of four weeks paid for by the federal government.
These were just a few the examples he provided the audience Thursday. Other details remain fuzzy. The environmental package may be moving to create tax credits for companies that produce clean energy instead of penalize those that pollute.
And on the revenue side, the corporate tax rate may go up only from 21% to 25% instead of to 28%. Or that plan may be abandoned altogether in lieu of a tax on capital gains for billionaires.
As Biden works to be more clear on details, he faces two political problems in his own party, namely Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both have opposed key aspects of his plan including raising corporate taxes to pay for it. They also opposed removing the filibuster to get some of Biden’s key proposals, including a voting rights plan, through the Senate.
Biden sounded a tone of reality with the 50-50 split of Congress noting that since every Democratic vote is needed, all 50 senators have the power of a president.
Biden has been negotiating with Manchin and Sinema separately, to his credit, and Manchin appears to be moderating as Biden has lowered the cost of the plan. The original $3.5 trillion price tag of the plan has been lowered to $2 trillion. A plan for paid family leave has been lowered from 12 weeks to four weeks.
Biden is a pragmatist. He’s been handed a political landscape that is difficult to navigate. Once the American people understand his plan, they will likely support much of it, and then he can make gains against political forces he faces.
Biden will have a chance to show if those 40-plus years in Congress were a liability, like his detractors like to say, or if they are shown to be the juice that gets his plan across the finish line.