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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Sly, good ol' addled Joe

by John Brummett | October 5, 2021 at 6:43 a.m.

Conservatives call President Biden addled or worse, but evidence is that he may be addled like a fox.

Biden made much in his inaugural address of bipartisanship. He declared in that speech his supposed ideal: "We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos."

Then he chose popular and much-needed infrastructure investment as his first--and as-yet only--focus for this lowered temperature and unity. He proposed more than $2 trillion in projects, but encouraged a bipartisan group of center-ish senators, near-equally divided by party, to negotiate.

When they produced their compromise June 24, cutting his proposal in half, Biden joined them in front of the West Wing to embrace and hail the achievement. He extolled the peaceful seeking of consensus by putting it this way, with smiling senators of both parties flanking him: "Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal, and that's what it means to compromise. And it reflects something important: It reflects consensus. And it's time a true--this time a true bipartisan effort, breaking the ice that too often has kept us from solving the real problems facing the American people."

But then, a couple of hours later, Biden said he would not sign the bill he'd just praised unless it was passed in tandem with another larger social-spending bill to be done by a process called budget reconciliation evading a Senate filibuster and requiring only 50 votes.

Then, after a frantic 48 hours during which he appeared to have gutted the bipartisan infrastructure achievement he'd extolled, he assured the newly confounded compromising senators--to their apparent satisfaction--that he'd never meant to say he would veto the infrastructure bill.

Then the infrastructure bill passed the Senate with 67 votes, including Mitch McConnell's, and Biden pronounced that good.

Then, on Friday, the president went to Capitol Hill and told the House Democratic caucus that, by his reckoning, there could be no infrastructure bill, which was scheduled for a vote that day, without the bigger bill, which is still being negotiated downward from $3.5 trillion over a decade.

Moderate Democrats wanting the infrastructure bill to stand on its own highly popular merit came away from that caucus meeting feeling double-crossed.

The self-professed champion of unity and lowered temperature had aggravated the division and heat in his own party in Congress.

But, you know, all Biden had ever said was that he loved the infrastructure compromise but wouldn't sign it without the other bigger bill although he would never veto the infrastructure bill, because he loved it.

A president cannot veto a bill the Senate passes but the House doesn't send to him.

Taken in full context, Biden embraced a compromise in June and held it hostage to a separate compromise on the first of October.

He's trying to compound a compromise with a few reasonable Republicans with another compromise with a slew of unreasonable progressive Democrats.

We once talked about Bill Clinton as slick and slippery. He said it depended on what the meaning of "is" is.

With Biden, it depends on what the meanings of "support" and "compromise" are.

Biden typically looks vacantly into a teleprompter and reads haltingly what's written for him, then goes back to his office to get on his phone with members of Congress to assure them ... well, you know, that, with him, they should always feel assured, because he's good ol' Joe.

Biden will emerge brilliant, perhaps even historic in the FDR and LBJ tradition, if he winds up signing both the infrastructure bill and some scaled-down social spending bill that will do a few monumental things such as expanding Medicare and child care.

But Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic senator from Arizona and former social worker and Green Party activist now morphed into an enigmatic maverick-y centrist in a self-styled Arizona John McCain tradition, isn't buying.

She issued a statement over the weekend calling it "simply inexcusable" to break faith and hold hostage the infrastructure bill she worked on--took the lead on--as the president patted her on the back.

Remember John McCain bringing down Donald Trump's bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act with an 11th-hour thumbs down? Imagine Sinema doing that on this reconciliation bill.

Watch Bernie Sanders explode. Listen as Biden assures everyone they can still count on him.

Biden also might wind up with nothing if "progressives," who provide the modern Democratic version of contemporary conservative zealots, won't accept a social-spending bill pared to the point that Democratic senators Sinema and Joe Manchin--and maybe a half-dozen House moderate Democrats--would accept.

That's what appears to me to be in store, but I'm not addled like a fox. I'm just addled, at least when good ol' Joe is talking.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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