As Biden Sells Relief Plan, Dems Move Beyond Obama Legacy

As Biden Sells Relief Plan, Dems Move Beyond Obama Legacy

President Joe Biden visited a suburban Philadelphia flooring business on Tuesday, his first stop on a “Help Is Here” tour to promote the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act he signed into law last week.

Much like Biden’s push to “go big” with the relief legislation, the tour is part of a concerted administration effort to avoid repeating what many Democrats now see as mistakes made in 2009, when President Obama oversaw a $787 billion stimulus plan in response to the Great Recession.

“It has become an article of faith in the party that Mr. Obama’s presidency was diminished because his two signature accomplishments, the stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act, were not expansive enough and their pitch to the public on the benefits of both measures was lacking,” Jonathan Martin of The New York Times says. “By this logic, Democrats began losing elections and the full control of the government, until now, because of their initial compromises with Republicans and insufficient salesmanship.”

Obama allies have noticed the shade, The New York Times’s Astead W. Herndon reports:

“The re-examination has irked some of the former president’s allies but thrilled the party’s progressive wing, which sees Mr. Biden’s more expansive plan as a down payment on his ambitious agenda. And it has sent an early signal that Mr. Biden’s administration does not intend to be a carbon copy of his Democratic predecessor’s. Times, all concede, have changed. …

“Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden came into office on promises of unity and bipartisanship in the face of an economic crisis, but Mr. Biden is the beneficiary of a changed landscape in the party. Democrats are now more cognizant of Republican obstruction, less deferential to the deficit hawks and energized by a growing progressive wing that has pulled the party’s ideological midpoint to the left.”

Casting a cloud over Obama’s legacy: Asked earlier this month about the prospect of getting GOP cooperation on legislation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that after Democrats succeeded in passing the massive package on their own, he hoped that Republicans might try to work together. “But,” he told CNN, “we're not going to make the mistake of 2008 and 2009 and do such a small measly proposal that it won't get us out of the mess that we are in right now.”

Schumer added that Obama and Democrats had tried a bipartisan approach back in 2009 and 2010. “We cut back on the stimulus dramatically and we stayed in recession for five years,” he said.

Other Democrats — including Biden — have said Obama made a mistake in not selling his rescue plan or explaining it to the American public. “I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did,’” Biden recalled at an event earlier this month. “He said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap,’ and we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.”

Progressives are overjoyed: Those on the left who criticized Obama’s approach are delighted that their critiques have become orthodoxy, at least among Democrats and many mainstream economists — and that Biden has embraced the right lessons, as they see them.

“I am less surprised by the ways in which the [Covid relief] bill was trimmed back, than by the extent that it breaks with the Clinton-Obama model,” economist J. W. Mason wrote Monday. “The fact that people like Lawrence Summers have been ignored in favor of progressives like Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein, and deficit hawks like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget have been left screeching irrelevantly from the sidelines, isn’t just satisfying to see. It suggests a big move in the center of gravity of economic policy debates.”