If Joe Biden wanted to spend massively in response to a nearly unprecedented public-health emergency, he was elected too late.
The conventional wisdom justifying the president’s new FDR-sized ambitions is that the country is in crisis and he has to meet the proverbial moment, which can only be done with 13-digit spending bills.
The truth is, though, that there is no crisis and there is no moment. There’s only an excuse, an occasion and a procedure.
The occasion is very slender Democratic majorities in Congress that are willing to contemplate levels of spending that, not too long ago, only the likes of Bernie Sanders and AOC openly agitated for.
The procedure is reconciliation, the process that allows fiscal measures to pass the Senate with just 51 votes rather than the usual 60.
It is true that the nation was in a double-barreled public-health and economic emergency for about a year, but Biden took office in January just when, thanks to the advent of the COVID vaccines, the end was finally in sight.
Now, new cases have declined steeply from their peak and are down nearly 30 percent over the last two weeks.
A hundred million Americans have been vaccinated. The problem no longer is producing and distributing enough vaccine for the public but finding enough people who want to get it.
Whereas FDR confronted a 25 percent unemployment rate during the Great Depression, Joe Biden inherited an economy on the verge of takeoff.
GDP grew by 1.6 percent in the first quarter, or at a 6.4 annual rate. Some projections have GDP this year growing at the fastest clip since 1951. Consumer spending is expected to be the highest on record.
Biden strained, and mostly failed, in his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill to find priorities directly related to COVID and to relief to spend money on. It’ll be even harder in a roaring economy, with the virus on the wane.
So it’s on to other alleged dire emergencies. But there is no infrastructure crisis. Contrary to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has a vested interest in promoting more infrastructure spending, the condition of the nation’s highways and bridges has been getting better or stayed the same.
There’s no climate crisis. Creating a sense of a looming planetary doom usually involves going beyond the science to attribute every weather-related disaster to greenhouse-gas emissions.
In his speech to the joint session of Congress last week, Biden correctly stated we are in a competition with China, then declared the way to prevail is to spend on every single one of his domestic priorities, as if Beijing’s threat to Taiwan can be deterred by spending another $80 billion on Amtrak and $174 billion on electric cars and charging stations.
No, none of this makes any sense. The real justification for the Biden spending spree is that Democrats, who have marched steadily to the left, are in the mood to do as much to transform the country as possible while their tenuous unified control of Washington lasts.
The spending isn’t responsive to any groundswell in the country, it isn’t in keeping with the way Biden campaigned in 2020 (as moderate old Joey from Scranton), it isn’t being forced on us by events, and it isn’t carefully modulated or thought through.
The best case is that conditions in America, rather than being dire, are so propitious these levels of spending can be absorbed without anything going wrong.
But presidents are often defined by genuine, unexpected crises. The worry has to be that Biden will have spent a huge amount of cash and political capital before he even learns what real crisis he’ll have to confront.