Biden's stalled domestic agenda raises questions about U.S. leadership
Bradley Blankenship
U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to meet with House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 28, 2021. /Getty

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to meet with House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 28, 2021. /Getty

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Just before departing for the G20 summit in Rome this weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden gave a speech acknowledging that the current version of his social-spending bill in Congress, a key part of his domestic agenda, fell short of expectations.

"No one got everything they wanted, including me," he said. "But that's what compromise is."

The fact that the Biden agenda is stuck in gridlock, bitterly dividing Biden's Democratic Party, raises serious questions about U.S. leadership – especially with regards to the outcome of the G20 summit and the UN's two-week 2021 Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) that kicked off on October 31.

White House officials have insisted that world leaders understand the perplexities of American democracy, that things are tricky and that somehow this is actually a positive sign because it shows democracy in action. The reality could not be further from the truth.

Biden's domestic agenda started with a price tag of $3.5 trillion (this figure was spread out over 10 years, so it would have translated to $350 billion) but has since been cut in half to $1.75 trillion. While it still has the potential to be one of the largest expansions of federal spending in decades, it still lacks much-needed ambition.

Some programs on the chopping block were tuition-free community college, cuts to prescription drug prices and paid family leave. All of these are broadly popular policies that were cut down by two "centrist" Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who collectively represent less than 3 percent of the country's population yet effectively control all major legislation.

An August poll in last year by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of U.S. adults actually support making all public colleges free, not just community colleges, though there were stark partisan divides. Polls have also consistently shown that paid family leave is broadly supported by most U.S. adults, regardless of party, and the U.S. is currently the only industrialized nation on the planet to not have it.

Probably most shocking, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 83 percent of U.S. adults believe the cost of prescription of drugs is unreasonable. Further, a significant amount of adults also reported not taking their drugs as prescribed due to a lack of affordability.

Sen. Joe Manchin leaves the U.S. Capitol after a vote in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 27, 2021. /Getty

Sen. Joe Manchin leaves the U.S. Capitol after a vote in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 27, 2021. /Getty

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry is not-so-coincidentally major backers of both of these Democratic senators, and Manchin's own daughter is a drug executive once labeled America's "new pharmaceutical villain" by the New York Times because she raised the price of the Epi-Pen sixfold and moved her company overseas to dodge taxes.

This obviously isn't some high-minded political debate taking place in the U.S. Senate, but rather a showdown between corporate-sponsored politicians and the American public. But this dysfunction in Washington is creeping into the international scene and causing notable problems for global issues.

For example, G20 leaders just wrapped up years-long discussion on a global minimum tax, finally approving the deal at the conclusion of the summit. President Joe Biden is committed to Washington joining the deal, hoping it will persuade other countries to follow suit. But one major challenge stands in the way: Congress.

One part of the deal has to do with dividing companies' global revenue, which means it is an international agreement that has to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate. With the current composition of an even-split between both major U.S. parties, plus the fact that Republicans will undoubtedly vote in unison against it, it looks dead on arrival.

The other has to do with digital service taxes levied in some countries that should be rolled back after a global deal, which must include the U.S., is finalized. It looks unlikely that this would also make it through Congress.

On the hugely important issue of climate, Biden's attendance at the COP26 will add further pressure to his domestic agenda which includes a hefty amount of spending – some $555 billion – for climate. But there are still many details to be hashed out because of Senate Democrats' bitter divide. If the U.S. doesn't have tangible policies in place by the end of the two-week summit then it will tarnish U.S. credibility, and this looks like a real possibility.

Within this context, Biden's latest trip to Europe raises serious questions about whether the U.S. is actually leading on these salient issues or just subjecting the rest of the world to Washington's corporate-funded dysfunction.

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