President Joe Biden’s doctor may be concerned about his stiff gait, but some Democrats are worried about his proverbial sprint to the end of the year as he wraps up his first 12 months in the White House.
Biden’s first year in office has unfolded in a way that likely diverges from how the president envisioned it would when he delivered his inauguration address last January thanks to the persistent pandemic and deadly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But while many people begin winding down before New Year’s Eve, the final four weeks of 2021 could solidify voter perception of the Biden administration.
Biden may count down to 2022 with a string of legislative accomplishments, according to political commentator Larry Jacobs.
Congress has some big-ticket items on its agenda in December, including Biden’s $2 trillion partisan social welfare and climate spending bill, which passed the House this month. Lawmakers also face a looming government shutdown on Dec. 3 and potential debt ceiling crisis after Dec. 15.
At the same time, Biden has to deal with rising consumer prices for gas and food, complicated by supply chain kinks, before Christmas.
“Biden’s problem is that the narrative of divided Dems not delivering is already in the political bloodstream, along with economic anxiety due to inflation and COVID-19,” said Jacobs, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. “Even with flashy new Democrat programs, uncertainty and anxiety will remain anchors on Biden’s approval rating.”
Biden’s job approval numbers have been sub-par since the summer. Two-fifths of respondents on average approve of Biden’s job as president, the lowest level of his term so far, according to RealClearPolitics this week. Roughly 53% disapprove of Biden’s handling of the presidency, the highest watermark of his administration this far.
Biden embarked on a national tour this month to promote the passage of his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal. House Democrats did not vote on it for three months while liberal members tried to gain leverage in negotiations over the larger, broader bill.
But Biden’s sales pitch regarding the historic investment in roads, bridges, and other bricks-and-mortar projects risks being overshadowed by Thanksgiving celebrations and other issues, such as inflation. The holiday and escalating everyday costs may counter momentum for his social welfare and climate bill too, given West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition.
Pollsters have warned Biden and his Democratic colleagues any public opinion boon from the infrastructure deal will be delayed because many of the programs will not start until next year. Brookings Institution Governance Studies Vice President Darrell West agreed.
“The most important thing Biden can do is get the infrastructure spending up and running quickly,” he said. “That will generate jobs and economic activity and provide an overall boost to the economy. Approval ratings go up and down with the economy, so anything that stimulates the economy will boost his approval ratings.”
The House passing the Senate-approved China competition measure would bolster Biden’s first-year credentials as well, according to West, whose research focus is the future of work. The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, viewed as companion legislation to the infrastructure deal and social welfare and climate bill, would inject $110 billion into basic and advanced technology research over the next five years. It passed the Senate in June.
“It has bipartisan support and will cement Biden’s claims that he can work across the aisle and get support from Republican and Democratic legislators,” West said.
Aggressive Progressive podcast host and former Democratic consultant Christopher Hahn was more optimistic. Congressional Democrats would have the social welfare and climate bill, passed through the majority-only reconciliation budget process, and a debt ceiling framework on Biden’s desk “before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s,” according to Hahn.
“Beyond that, I expect an effort to get Joe Manchin’s voting rights bill passed, but I’m not confident it will succeed,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to find 10 good Republican senators to support him.”
Biden flew to Nantucket, Massachusetts, on Tuesday for Thanksgiving. The White House has not released his entire schedule for this week, but he is anticipated to return to Washington, D.C., on Sunday.