In pursuit of consensus, did Biden find the reasonable middle or give away too much?

By | May 28, 2023

Peter Baker writes:

After weeks of tense wrangling between the White House and House Republicans, the fiscal deal reached on Saturday to raise the debt ceiling while constraining federal spending bolsters President Biden’s argument that he is the one figure who can still do bipartisanship in a profoundly partisan era.

But it comes at the cost of rankling many in his own party who have little appetite for meeting Republicans in the middle and think the president cannot stop himself from giving away too much in an eternal and ephemeral quest for consensus. And it will now test his influence over fellow Democrats he will need to pass the deal in Congress.

The agreement in principle that he reached with Speaker Kevin McCarthy represents a case study in governing for Mr. Biden’s presidency, underscoring the fundamental tension of his leadership since the primaries in 2020 when he overcame progressive rivals to win the Democratic nomination. Mr. Biden believes in his bones in reaching across the aisle even at the expense of some of his own priorities.

He has shown that repeatedly since being inaugurated two and a half years ago even as skeptics doubted that cross-party accommodation was still possible. Most notably, he pushed through Congress a bipartisan public works program directing $1 trillion to building or fixing roads, bridges, airports, broadband and other infrastructure; legislation expanding treatment for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits; and an investment program to boost the nation’s semiconductor industry, all of which passed with Republican votes.

This is not a moment, however, in which bipartisanship is valued in the way it was when Mr. Biden came up through the Senate in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. His desire to position himself as the leader who can bring together a deeply divided country is at the heart of his case for a second term next year. But it conflicts with the interests of many Democrats who see more political benefit in standing firm against former President Donald J. Trump’s Republican Party and prefer to draw a sharper contrast for their own elections in 2024 when they hope to recapture the House.

“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement issued late Saturday night as the deal was being announced. “That’s the responsibility of governing.”

Most importantly from Mr. Biden’s point of view, the agreement averts a catastrophic national default that could have cost many jobs, tanked the stock markets, jeopardized Social Security payments and sent the economy reeling. He is banking on the assumption that Americans will appreciate mature leadership that does not gamble with the nation’s economic health. [Continue reading…]

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