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'No More Excuses': With Senate Majority Reclaimed, Progressives Demand Bold Agenda From Biden

"A working majority in both houses of Congress means that any decision to court Republican votes will be made by choice."

Then-Vice President Joe Biden after reenacting the swearing in of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the 114th U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2015. (Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Then-Vice President Joe Biden after reenacting the swearing in of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the 114th U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2015. (Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

With President Donald Trump defeated and Democrats soon to be the majority in both the House and Senate, progressives are saying there can be "no more excuses" for the incoming Biden administration failing to enact a bold and visionary agenda to solve the nation's most pressing issues in a way that puts America's struggling working-class people first.

"American politics is going off the rails—and the only thing that can get us back on track is some old-fashioned class struggle on the left."
—Bhaskar Sunkara, Jacobin

Last month, when the GOP was in firm control of the Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that "the fundamental political question of our time is: are we going to allow Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party, and corporate America to return us to austerity politics, or are we going to build a dynamic economy that works for everyone?"

Though overshadowed by Wednesday's Trump-led attack on the U.S. Capitol during the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College win, the historic victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in this week's runoff races in Georgia have positioned the Democratic Party to take control of Senate in addition to the House and presidency—thus changing the political calculus.

Whereas many commentators on the left had been urging Biden to prepare to circumvent congressional Republicans' obstructionism by embracing his executive authority to deliver material gains to struggling Americans, Democrats now have "tremendous latitude to pass legislation (starting with immediate $2,000 relief checks) if, as a caucus, they actually want to," Jacobin's Luke Savage pointed out Thursday.

"A working majority in both houses of Congress," Savage added, "means that any decision to court Republican votes will be made by choice."

In a statement on the victories in Georgia, climate justice advocates at Sunrise Movement said the new Democratic majority "marks the beginning of a historic opportunity that could better the lives of everyone in this country and start healing our planet. With Democratic control of Congress and the White House, there are no more excuses. Our country is clearly hurting and divided, and we will not stop until our representatives cement lasting structural change that ensures our government works for us."

Lamenting the corrosive social effects of economic inequality—which has been steadily intensifying in the U.S. since former Republican president Ronald Reagan's assault on labor unions and public goods was followed by former Democratic president Bill Clinton's capitulation to a policy agenda centered on upward redistribution—Jacobin's Bhaskar Sunkara said Friday in an interview with Grace Blakeley of Tribune that "American politics is going off the rails—and the only thing that can get us back on track is some old-fashioned class struggle on the left."

Along similar lines, sociologist Samuel Farber argued in Jacobin earlier this week that the "openly authoritarian, racist, xenophobic," and anti-scientific brand of politics known as Trumpism, which is here to stay until its root causes are addressed, is "a right-wing response to the objective conditions of economic decay and a perceived moral decay."

In order to defeat the reactionary force of Trumpism, Farber wrote, it will be necessary to eliminate the conditions of intensifying inequality that fueled it. This perspective is shared by Sanders, who has written that preventing "another right-wing authoritarian" even worse than Trump depends on pursuing and enacting an aggressive agenda reminiscent of FDR's New Deal that challenges free-market fundamentalism and improves the lives of working Americans.

Now that "the election of Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff gives the Democrats a working majority in the Senate, it remains to be seen if the Democrats will pursue the fundamental economic, political, and social reforms necessary to strengthen democracy and promote greater harmony in America," historian John Ripton wrote Thursday in a column for Common Dreams.

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Given Biden's extensive record of hurting working-class people by advancing bipartisan neoliberalism and taking into consideration conservative Democrats' opposition to Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Savage made it clear that nobody should expect the Establishment leadership of the party to willingly use its hard-won legislative power to usher in a more egalitarian social order. 

Already, Sen. Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.), has come out in opposition to $2,000 relief checks.

Concerning Biden's willingness to lead the Democratic Party in a progressive direction—away from its decades-long commitment to corporate-friendly triangulation—Ripton had this to say:

The nominees to cabinet posts and appointments to other administration positions he has already unveiled do not indicate that his presidency will address fundamental economic and social issues. Too much time and effort has been spent on weighing potential Republican approval of prospective cabinet nominees, as if the Biden administrative team should defer in any way to the sentiments of a Republican Senate that has devoted itself to a race-baiting, xenophobic fear-mongering Donald Trump. Some will excuse such a cautious approach to forming a new government as pragmatic and realistic, crucial to Biden's effort to unify the nation. In light of the profound issues that face us, however, early concessions to those who deny Biden's own election indicates that he will favor conserving the status quo over pursuing a progressive political agenda. 

If the "broad social and environmental injustices threatening this nation and the world," are to be confronted, however, "it is obvious that Democrats will need to enact thoroughgoing populist reforms over the next four years," Ripton wrote. "Central to achieving social equality, improved public health, and economic-environmental sustainability will require confronting the market forces and propaganda obscuring the disastrous course of unbridled capitalism."

"If Democrats deliver bold solutions that create jobs, ensure justice, and heal a divided nation, this year could launch a new era of politics like FDR and the New Deal and Democrats will be rewarded for decades to come."
—Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement

In light of the pro-Trump mob's Wednesday insurrection at the Capitol, Sunrise's executive director Varshini Prakash said Democrats must be unwavering and bold in the crucial weeks and months to come.

"There is no middle ground, and Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi cannot 'compromise,' ' negotiate,' or 'come to the table' with the GOP tyrants who enabled today's violent terrorism," Prakash said. "If Democrats deliver bold solutions that create jobs, ensure justice, and heal a divided nation, this year could launch a new era of politics like FDR and the New Deal and Democrats will be rewarded for decades to come."

Pursuing "tepid bipartisan policies will not restore ordinary Americans' confidence in their government," Ripton warned. "Dramatic new initiatives to combat climate change, wealth concentration, and institutional racism are the only ways a new American government can instill enough faith in democracy to avoid sliding more deeply into authoritarianism."

Now is the time, Ripton argued, for progressives "to grasp the opportunity to shift the entire spectrum of American politics toward the left. In this new political environment Biden's moderate positions on health care, climate change, systemic racism, and wealth disparities would become the new conservative pole and progressive positions could gain broader legitimacy and political weight at the center of government."

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