Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
President Joe Biden’s proposed budget makes one thing clear: Despite progressive hopes that the President might be a secret Franklin Delano Roosevelt capable of ushering in an ambitious domestic agenda, Biden is exactly the timid moderate he always appeared to be.
He seems to be hoping that an agenda of the same old tacking-right policies will benefit vulnerable Democrats in the midterms. Instead, he may simply be depressing Democratic enthusiasm and helping to consign the party to a red wave.
The Biden budget increases military spending by about 10% to a whopping $773 billion – more than the combined spending of the next 11 countries. With Ukraine in turmoil thanks to a Russian war of aggression and the world’s stability threatened by an ascendant China, it makes sense that Biden would need a well-funded military. What makes less sense, though, is such robust military spending coupled with claims that the country can’t afford robust and necessary social welfare programs – a claim we often hear from Republicans and conservative Democrats alike.
The money for anti-violence programs is laudable and could have a real impact. But most of the proposed budget funding isn’t for community efforts; it’s for more policing.
Biden himself put it best. “Budgets are statements of values,” he said in a statement. What does it say about Biden and his administration that they prioritize policing and militarism, but don’t make sufficient investments in policies that the future of the nation hinges on: child care, for example, and fighting climate change?
The Biden budget doesn’t ignore these issues entirely – it includes nearly $45 billion to address climate change, an increase of $16.7 billion over the previous year, for example. But that’s a far less ambitious number than is necessary to deal with an existential emergency. And while the budget does mention child care, the specifics are foggy, and it’s a far cry from the universal child care program that the country needs.
The American people, like people all over the globe, have had an exceptionally rough few years. The pandemic reshaped the labor market and pushed far too many women out of it. The need for the basic social support systems on offer in most of our economic peer nations – affordable child care, universal health care, paid parental leave, even paid sick days – became devastatingly clear when Covid-19 upended life as we knew it.
How utterly insulting that after years of asking individual Americans to shoulder these burdens almost entirely on their own, the President, whose election was fueled by both moderate voters and the Democratic Party’s progressive base, hasn’t managed to put much of anything in place in the long term to support American families.
To be fair, that’s not entirely Biden’s fault – moderate Democrats, most notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – deserve the lion’s share of the blame. They used their power to tank the President’s social welfare and climate change efforts last year.
But the President could certainly have been even a touch more ambitious in this budget. Instead, he seems more concerned with convincing the public that he’s a pro-police, pro-military tough guy and less interested in delivering the things that would materially improve the lives of average folks.
Biden won the presidential election by appealing to voters’ exhaustion with the extremes of the Trump era. He sold himself as a familiar, reasonable moderate; he wasn’t going to inflame tensions or do anything too crazy. And it worked: The progressives who may not have seen the urgency in voting for Hillary Clinton may have been more willing to cast one for Biden after four years of Trump; some of the moderate Republicans and swing voters who took a chance on Trump may have regretted it and reversed course.
Biden won thanks to a coalition that spans from the center-right to the far left. He’s never going to be able to make them all happy. But with the midterms coming up in November, he needs to not alienate the center while also keeping the Democratic base, which includes a sizable number of progressives, on board.
Indeed, he needs all Democratic voters to show up to the polls – something fewer voters do in midterm elections than in presidential ones. To do that, he could have spoken to the core aims of Democratic voters, which are less “defund the police” (or “refund the police”) and more “help me to keep my family healthy and financially well.”
In 2020 and again now, “the economy” is a top issue for voters, as is health care. The economy is about more than just inflation (although voters certainly care quite a bit about that, too). For parents, the ability to work for pay hinges on having someone who can care for their children. For many fathers, that person is their children’s mother. For many mothers, there is no one else to lean on.
If Biden’s efforts to curb inflation work, they will help ease the financial crunch that so many Americans are feeling. But families need more than more affordable milk at the market; they need jobs that pay fairly, high-quality care for their children and their elders, and the ability to go to the doctor when they’re sick without bankrupting themselves. (A livable planet for their grandchildren wouldn’t hurt, either).
Budgets are indeed statements of values. And Democrats would be justified in wondering if Biden’s values align with ours.