The year ahead: Can US Build Back Better?

Published on Jan 01, 2022 05:17 PM IST

Biden administration’s flagship Build Back Better legislation, a $1.7 trillion transformation of the United States welfare system, failed to garner the needed Senate votes in December

Biden’s political agenda is solely about blunting the anti-establishment, working class anger that led to the rise of Donald Trump. (HT Photo)
Biden’s political agenda is solely about blunting the anti-establishment, working class anger that led to the rise of Donald Trump. (HT Photo)
ByPramit Pal Chaudhuri

There will be an urgency about Joe Biden’s presidency this year. The past year did not pan out quite the way he had hoped. But 2022 may be his last chance to make a difference.

The Biden administration will begin its second year both determined and desperate. Its flagship Build Back Better legislation, a $1.7 trillion transformation of the United States welfare system, failed to garner the needed Senate votes in December. The president has seen his approval rating fall to a dismal 43%. His administration is struggling with yet another Covid wave. Inflation is beginning to spread through the economy.

Biden’s political agenda is solely about blunting the anti-establishment, working class anger that led to the rise of Donald Trump. Securing the US against a second Trump presidency is the Holy Grail of the Biden presidency. And the orange-haired reality TV star has the Oval Office in his sights. Reportedly, Trump had to be dissuaded by aides from announcing his intention to run again after the US’s tragicomic withdrawal from Kabul. If his doctors give him the green signal, expect him to announcing in 2022.

Biden will now try to push his agenda in bite-sized chunks. As he told party members recently, “We have to keep making the case”. Build Back Better, for example, will probably be shrunk-wrapped to Mild Medium-sized Milquetoast and put before the Senate again. Climate crisis policies will come sliced and diced.

The world at large is only marginally better for Biden. Three major foreign policy crises will roll on into the new year. First is the military buildup along the Ukraine-Russia border. The coming six-party negotiations will seek to find a solution, and will kick off global diplomacy for 2022. But Putin won’t back down in a hurry.

Second are tensions over Taiwan, though this seems to be increasingly shadow boxing, all fighter aircraft but no intention to fight. However, the US and China will continue to spar on many things economic. China will seek to use trade diplomacy to isolate America. Washington will double down on technology coalitions. The Quad, something Biden sees at the core of his China response, will assemble in Tokyo in February and probably at least once more later in the year.

And finally there’s Iran. The attempt to resurrect the US-Iran nuclear deal will continue apace. Iran will not roll back its nuclear programme or its informal West Asian empire, as Washington is demanding. But Biden will also resist calls from Israel to consider a military solution. His instinct has been to not invest too much in West Asia, something which Iran will leverage as the US leader’s home front looms ever larger in importance.

After all, by next spring the US will be all about the midterm congressional elections in November. With the entire lower house and a third of the Senate up for grabs, the odds are Biden will lose his slender congressional majority, be unable to pass legislation thereafter and end up a de facto two-year president. Trump has already been endorsing dozens of rabid Republicans at the congressional and state levels. Which is why Biden’s passage of Build Back Better and similar legislation is so crucial. The US president will also move more aggressively on voting rights and anti-monopoly legislation in the coming year, blocking the Republicans from suppressing minority voter rights and Mark Zuckerberg from subverting everyone’s data rights.

These moves and more may prove important legacies of the Biden presidency but will be drowned out by the noise which will engulf the US in 2023. Noise by a Republican Party going off the rails, a virus that refuses to go away, and a club sandwich of overseas enemies who see Biden as weak and doddering. The US president will have a tough year, but more importantly it may be his last chance to proof his country against those who would Make America Trumped Again.

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