The Politics of Biden's Big Deal
The Inflation Reduction Act: What it means and where we go from here
I picked a helluva week to go on vacation. I put my phone down and disconnected for the first time in a very long time, and Democrats had their biggest breakthrough in more than a year. I was so committed to time away from politics that I didn’t even bring my laptop with me on the trip.
But I want to weigh in with a few thoughts on the shocking deal between Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer and where it may go from here. As they say, better to be a week late than a day early (pretty sure I just made that up).
All of the “BFD” jokes have been made, but if it all comes together, the Inflation Reduction Act will be a historic achievement.
No Chickens Have Hatched
As an irrepressibly superstitious person, I almost didn’t write this newsletter. I was irrationally afraid to hit send on a newsletter about the deal on the off-chance it caused Kyrsten Sinema to emerge like the Eye of Sauron and strike it down. In all seriousness, multiple reports say that Sinema has not yet signaled support for the deal and reserves the right to force changes over the tax provisions. Sinema blowing up a historic health care and climate change package due to opposition to raising taxes on hedge funds would be the most politically suicidal move in recent Democratic Party history and very on-brand for the corporatist from Arizona. Therefore, nothing is done yet. Hopefully, no one is hanging up a “Mission Accomplished” banner or firing off a confetti cannon.
In his statement announcing his support for the deal, Joe Manchin notably declared that “Build Back Better” is dead. During the 2020 campaign, I was a fan of “Build Back Better” as a slogan. I am a sucker for alliteration. I also thought it perfectly encapsulated the core appeal of Biden’s candidacy — a combination of undoing the damage of Trump and the pandemic while creating something better than we had before, but “Build Back Better” was much less effective as the catch-all appellation for President Biden’s legislative agenda. Now, in fairness, naming a bill to address climate, the tax system, child care, health care, and immigration is a tall order. And “Build Back Better” required too much prior knowledge to work. It failed the double click test. Every political communicator needs to assume two things. First, the message is being consumed on social media; and second, no one is ever going to click on the link to read more. If the headline or name doesn’t tell the whole story, it doesn’t tell the story at all. This is why calling the new bill the “Inflation Reduction Act” is a masterstroke. People care about inflation, they want it reduced, and the bill reduces it. It’s all in the title.
Validation of Biden’s Approach
In 2021, President Biden played a very hands-on role in trying to pass “Build Back Better.” He was frequently and visibly meeting with legislators. In his speeches and public comments, Biden often narrated the legislative process. He took victory laps when milestones were reached and promised success. After Manchin walked away from negotiations at the end of the year, Biden took a different tactic. He abandoned the role of legislator-in-chief and took a step back from Congress. Biden spent more than three decades in the Senate and is a master of the process. I cannot imagine that was an easy decision. But it was the right one.
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