Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Don't Underestimate The Powers Of A President Biden - Even If Dems Don't Flip The Senate

Near the end of Bill Maher's last Real Time show he agonized that if the Dems don't get the two Georgia runoff seats in January, it "would scarcely be worth Biden's time to be president"-  since next to nothing will get passed (in Biden's agenda)  with Mitch McConnell at the helm.  Not so!   There are plenty of moves Biden can make, lots of 'end runs' around Repuke obstruction and other areas where Biden will have near total determination.   

It is worthwhile to examine these,  even while still acknowledging that the Democratic control of the Senate would be the ideal option.   That's assuming Stacy Abrams in Georgia can summon the same or even larger turnout than she did for the general election.

To Bill's point, it didn't take long after Biden's presentation of his cabinet with at least 6 high powered picks (including the first female Director of National Intelligence), for Reeps to signal obstruction..  Soon after the event, Repuke Sen. Marco Rubio signaled opposition, as noted by The Hill:

"Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla)  on Tuesday sharply criticized a number of President-elect Joe Biden's intended Cabinet nominees, calling them "caretakers of America’s decline" and suggesting he might vote against their confirmation next year."

So let's say all or some of Biden's key picks are blocked in a Republican -controlled Senate.  There are still ways around that obstruction.   For starters, there's the 'Vacancies Act' with which Biden "has an indispensable legal channel to fill  positions" when confirmation in the Senate is blocked or delayed, This according to The Revolving Door Project, an anti-corruption group. 

This law was passed in 1868 and has been used extensively by presidents of both parties to appoint people in key positions without Senate approval.  According to the Congressional Research Service, the intent of the law is to prevent the business of government from being "seriously impaired" by a lack of personnel in key departments.  And you can bet your sweet bippy that this is exactly what a McConnell led GOP Senate would try to do.

Now true, Trump badly distorted and misused this law by resorting to a raft of temporary position appointments.  But this wasn't because of being blocked by his fellow rats in the Repuke Senate.  Nope, he did it because he wanted "more flexibility".  Translation: he wanted to be able to fire anyone at the slightest whim, but mainly for not being sufficiently loyal vassals.   

In Biden's case the  Vacancies Act would work as intended: getting those admirably qualified into positions to get government functioning again  - and without obstruction by McConnell and his sewer rats.

Yet another part of the Constitution Biden can use - if pushed to the wall by the pukes - is Article 2, Section 2.  This allows the president to adjourn congress and then - after a recess of 10 days - make a "recess appointment."   This is another form of temporary appointment that doesn't need Senate approval.  

Once again, doing straight appointments which are confirmed is the ideal.  But in our polarized political atmosphere Biden has to "hope for the best but still expect the worst."   That is assuming we don't get those 2 Georgia runoff seats, which now will likely depend on how many white women swing voters will ally with women of color to save the day.  As Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently  put it, Biden has "a moral obligation not to subject executive appointments to an anti-democratic, anti-science reactionary " like Mitch McConnell.  That means employing all other alternative means at his disposal to at least get temporary appointments made even if McConnell blocks permanent ones.  

Apart from the Vacancies Act, there is the domain of trade, where even the WSJ (November 10, p. A2) notes that: "Some of Mr. Biden's proposals are likely non-starters in a Republican Senate - but not trade policy - where the president has broad authority to conduct negotiations and peel off or apply new tariffs as he sees fit."   

Biden could also independently  "negotiate a restart to activity at the World Trade Organization"  This was hobbled when the Trump cabal "blocked the appointment of appellate judges at the WTO- which meant current cases can't be resolved." (Because of the lack of a quorum to finalize appeals)   

Perhaps Biden's most powerful tool to demolish the residue of Trumpism in government is to use executive orders to nullify Trump's exec orders.  Targeting Trump's executive actions to destabilize and pollute the environment should have high priority and then fixing sights on some 400 executive orders limiting immigration. Killing all or most of those Trump orders, conceived in mischief and bad faith,  saves having to propose new legislation that wouldn't likely pass the McConnell Senate anyway.

In terms of drug policy, with the stroke of his pen, Biden could reclassify marijuana with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This would at once effectively decriminalize pot nationwide and also allow dispensaries - like here in Colorado - to have proper bank accounts.   That as opposed to hauling vast sums of cash back and forth between dispensaries and banks for deposit. 

In terms of economic stimulus Biden also has lots of room to maneuver, i.e. in jump starting the economy without congress. For example, Biden could direct his Education Secretary to forgive student loans to a certain amount, say in the $50k- 75k range for low and moderate households.   Biden can also use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

Biden will  also be able to exert some additional oversight over the $2.2 trillion stimulus package that passed in March. For instance, small businesses that took Paycheck Protection Program loans were required to keep workers on payrolls, and he could instruct his Treasury Department to more rigorously scrutinize the loans to ensure that the money was actually going to pay salaries and overhead costs.

A President Biden could also take a page from Trump and seek to repurpose unspent funds from that stimulus legislation, including hundreds of billions of dollars that were earmarked for the Paycheck Protection Program but never allocated before a congressional deadline ended the program. He could also lean on the Treasury to make lending facilities established by the Federal Reserve more generous and attractive to users, if they haven’t expired by the time he enters office.

Biden has proposed trillions of dollars of tax increases on high earners and corporations in his campaign. But much of that agenda will be dead o arrival in a Repuke held Senate.  Never mind. In a few areas, a Biden administration could act on its own to raise taxes — largely by changing regulations governing how Trump’s signature 2017 tax law is carried out.

Several of those regulations apply to income earned abroad by multinational corporations that operate in the United States. A Biden Treasury Department could move to reverse a series of decisions that Trump’s team made after the 2017 law was passed that effectively reduced the liability of multinationals under a pair of new taxes created by the law, known as the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax and the Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income.

Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to raise U.S. tax liability on multinationals’ global income, which he could attempt to do via regulation by changing how the liability is calculated. His Treasury Department could also attempt to roll back a so-called high-tax exemption, which allowed some companies to lower their tax bills in the United States.

A Biden Treasury could also change the regulations covering Opportunity Zones, another creation of the 2017 law that is intended to entice investment in high-poverty areas by providing a tax break. Such changes could make it more difficult for investors to qualify for the tax benefits from the zones, and Treasury could impose more stringent reporting requirements on projects that qualify for the breaks.  

There are many other areas where a Biden administration will have leverage to get things done -even  if stonewalled by a McConnell Senate.  Again, these may not be the ideal options, but they can work to overcome any GOP orchestrated obstruction. That's in the event we don't have the  Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning those two Georgia Senate seats in January.  

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