Reviews | This Congress has made incremental legislative progress
Specifically, the 117th Congress has compiled a significant legislative record since it was convened on January 3, 2021. Although narrowly split between Republicans and Democrats in the House and split three-way in the Senate – with the third “party” being a de facto micro- group composed of Sens. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) & Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) — Congress bounced back from the Jan. 6 mob attack and got things done. Since March 2021, lawmakers have passed: a $1.9 trillion plan to help the economy recover from the covid pandemic; an infrastructure package with $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, ports, etc. ; a plan to redress the Post Office’s balance sheet; a long-awaited anti-lynching law named after Emmett Till; a small but significant gun safety law; a $280 billion Chips Act to support scientific research and domestic production of semiconductors; and the fiscal-climate-health plan known as the Cut Inflation Act, which passed the House on Friday.
It is particularly notable that some of the measures – postal reform, infrastructure, anti-lynching, bullets and gun safety – have enjoyed bipartisan support. This also applies to the repeated measures of military and economic support for Ukraine in its war against Russia and NATO membership for Finland and Sweden. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell won Senate confirmation for a second four-year term on a bipartisan basis. A bipartisan Senate group has made progress on reforming the voter count law, and there is a good chance that this vital measure will pass before the end of this Congress. Respect for Marriage Act aimed at protecting same-sex marriages from adverse Supreme Court rulings struggles to reach 60 votes in the Senate, but could do so, given it passed the House with 47 Republican votes. There was no federal default; the debt limit was raised enough to last the year because Democrats agreed to a special procedure that allowed Senate Republicans who had obstructed the bill to save face.
None of these new laws are ideal or anything close. Some have erred by going too far in pursuit of their goals: the US bailout, as the $1.9 trillion covid stimulus bill was called, likely overspent the economy with spending and contributed to the inflation. Others clearly haven’t gone far enough: With its extensive background checks for gun buyers under 21, as well as increased mental health spending, the bipartisan Communities Act safe does not replace the necessary bans on high capacity magazines and assault rifles. As for the new Inflation Reduction Act, it is unlikely to affect inflation one way or another – and lacks key social policy reforms such as a tax credit for permanent expanded children. Yet it will provide substantial new funding for green energy and health insurance subsidies. And it’s being paid for — plus a small margin for deficit reduction — by breaking long-held taboos against raising incomes or using Medicare’s buying power to extract lower prices from the pharmaceutical industry.
In short, for all the often-justified desperation stirred up by political dysfunction — and by the institutions, such as the filibuster of the Senate, that make legislation such a chore — Congress has produced incremental progress. The key was to cut the Twitterverse and engage in old-fashioned concessions, through negotiations between parties and, sometimes, within them. Given the backlog of unmet social, economic and environmental needs, incremental progress is frustratingly, well, incremental. And yet, it has the advantage of probably being the kind of progress voters actually had in mind when they elected a divided Congress — and a relatively moderate president with a long track record as a senator, Joe Biden. – in November 2020.
Radical ideologies, such as the vintage totalitarianism of the 1930s that historians have discussed with Mr. Biden, entertain the seductive – inevitably false – hope of redemption through upheaval. Democracy, on the other hand, offers change with stability. Both at home and abroad, there is growing doubt that the system can still deliver on this more modest, but infinitely more humane promise. All the more reason to take note of – and rescue – the evidence he can.