Biden's proposed tax increases on wealthier individuals and businesses and significant increase in spending for a wide range of domestic programs draws a sharp contrast with Republican priorities. (ddp)

House Republicans score
Republicans have a long list of bills they want to pass now that they have a majority in the House. An early focus has been trying to undo measures put into effect by the Biden administration or by Democrats over the past two years. Last week, the House (and the Senate) passed a resolution to object to a rule by the Department of Labor allowing ESG investments to be included in retirement accounts, though President Biden is expected to veto that measure. The House also voted to reject revisions to the criminal code that the city council in Washington, DC enacted last year. Those changes included reduced maximum sentences for a wide range of offenses (including murder and carjackings) and a greater right to jury trials for misdemeanors. After the House passed this measure, President Biden surprised many by announcing that he would sign it into law if the Senate also passed it. The Senate then passed it this week on an overwhelming basis (33 Democrats joined all voting Republicans in support). This was the first instance this year in which a House Republican bill prompted a Senate vote to reverse a Democratic initiative. Politics was a big motivating factor given that the President and Senate Democrats don’t want to be seen as soft on crime as the 2024 elections near.

Biden vs. progressives
In addition to irritating some Democrats with his surprise decision to acquiesce on the reversal of the Washington, DC criminal reform bill, the President also annoyed some Democrats this week by stating that he would detain more migrants seeking to enter the US southern border through the asylum process. This followed comments in the last few weeks on his intent to limit the number of migrants seeking asylum. These new positions on immigration reflect a significant policy switch by the President and are a sign to us (particularly in combination with the action on the DC crime bill) that the President is indeed running for re-election next year. Immigration problems and crime in big cities have both been political liabilities for the President, and his actions this week are designed to address them. President Biden will engage in a delicate dance between maintaining his strong support from his party’s faithful while also looking for occasional spots to adopt more moderate positions. We witnessed some of that this week.

Biden budget and debt ceiling
As expected, President Biden released his budget proposal for the federal government for fiscal year 2024. The submission is required by law, but also is a way for the President to highlight his federal tax and spending priorities. The budget’s proposed tax increases on wealthier individuals and businesses and significant increase in spending for a wide range of domestic programs draws a sharp contrast with Republican priorities. Any budget from Republican lawmakers would lay out a plan to eventually balance the federal budget through federal spending cuts (not tax increases). The contrast between higher taxes and more spending on the one side and spending caps and reductions on the other will set the stage for the debate over how to extend the debt ceiling later this year. Whichever side can market its views most effectively to voters will have an upper hand in that debate.

Presidential primary debates
While most Americans probably aren’t ready for another election season, the reality is that it’s not far off. This time next year we will have just finished “Super Tuesday,” the date in which the greatest number of states will hold primary elections or caucuses. At that point, it’s likely that we’ll have a much better idea of who will be the nominees of the two major parties. The Republican Party announced that its first presidential primary debate will take place in Milwaukee this August. While August is only five months away, it’s not out of line with modern precedent for contested primaries. During the 2016 presidential election, which did not have an incumbent for either party, Republicans held their first debate in August 2015, while Democrats held theirs in October 2015. Neither of those were as early as the 2020 Democratic debates, which began in June of 2019. The combination of larger budgets for presidential campaigns, the ease of accessing large swaths of the population through social media, and a lack of certainty around who will be the nominee have all led to presidential primaries kicking into high gear earlier and earlier. Ready or not, the 2024 presidential election is right around the corner.

Read more in Washington Weekly 10 March 2023.