Oh, Right, Governance

John Scalzi

I’ve noted before that I am posting less about politics these days, primarily because I find it largely enervating, and there are only so many ways to say “The current GOP is a white supremacist authoritarian cult who threw away any pretense at seriousness to grovel at the feet of an actual seditious criminal” before one starts to sound like a broken record. That said, for people who have an interest in actual governance, today wasn’t a bad day: President Biden got to sign into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which is actually mostly a climate and medical care bill, but, sure, call it the Inflation Reduction Act if you like, why not.

The act, now law, actually gets us a reasonable distance to meeting our climate remediation goals (knocks on wood) and helps shave down drug prescription and other medical costs, mostly for seniors. It covers a lot of ground, raises revenues to pay for the plans, and generally is a decent bill that does things as well as can be done when one entire party won’t vote for anything the other party proposed even if it were to build a golden shrine to Ronald Reagan on a national park land leased for its oil rights.

Is it a perfect bill? Not at all — Joe Manchin, who you see at left in the photo, and who was given the honor of the signing pen by Biden — made sure there were some oil and gas giveaways, and Krysten Sinema made sure very rich people continued to get a tax carveout on investments. Lots of stuff I would have been okay with was tossed over the side, and the whole thing in general is substantially smaller than it was when first proposed. From my point of view it could have been better, if, for example, the Democrats had had 52 senators and not 50.

But they didn’t have 52 senators, they had 50, and perfect is the enemy of good, and sometimes, if you can get half a loaf, you take half a loaf, because half a loaf is better than nothing. Then you find a way to stretch that loaf into something closer to what you might have originally wanted. Climate folks, for example, say that the bill just passed has the potential to achieve 90% of the climate goals of the original Build Back Better proposals, which, if accurate, seems a pretty good deal, all things considered. “I get everything I want or I set it all on fire” is not actually a good way to govern.

It also means that at this point Biden has done an actually pretty good job of carrying out his campaign goals, in terms of the legislation that’s gotten through Congress. He’s done a very poor job of communicating that fact to this point, because none of this legislation is really what you’d call sexy; it’s mostly blandly practical at best, and also, it’s debatable whether people actually want to hear about it. Biden was voted into office as much if not more to deny Trump a second term than anything else. But when you add up everything that’s gotten through Congress to be signed into law, well. Turns out Biden’s been pretty effective when no one’s been paying attention. Who knew?

What would be nice is if this actually turned into momentum for the Democrats keeping control of Congress; midterm elections rarely favor the party in power, and the GOP in particular has been busy trying to stack the House with gerrymandered districts. The Democrats will need every advantage they can get to hold that side of the Hill. Whether actual effective governance will be heard over the noise of criminal investigations of the former president (for starters) is what we get to find out. Remember to vote, folks.

But if the GOP does take the Hill, wholly or partially, and the brakes are applied to Biden’s legislative plans, he’s got these things done. We’re closer to not baking in our own juices over the next few decades, and we’ll keep some folks from not having to choose between rent, food or medications. It’s not nothing. In fact, it’s a lot of something. It’s not everything, but it’s more than I would have counted on even a couple of months ago. And it’s worth noting, and remembering when it’s time to cast your ballot.

— JS

26 Comments on “Oh, Right, Governance”

  1. This bill, the other bills that have been signed into law (Infrastructure, PACT, CHIP, and more that I can’t remember off the top of my head); plus the number of judges Biden has had confirmed, plus revitalizing NATO… Biden has gotten an enormous amount done in 2 years.

    And all of it benefited people who are not ultra rich, cronies, or people he owed money to or wanted favors from. IOW: benefited Americans as a whole. Imagine that.

    I am relieved, proud, and overwhelmingly grateful.

    Go, Dark Brandon!

  2. And still, his approval rating is tanked. I don’t get it. TFG was a dumpster fire of narcissistic incompetence.

  3. Biden’s been hitting it out of the park these last few weeks

    inflation going down
    job numbers going up
    death of Ayman al-Zawahri
    passage of inflation reduction act
    passage of CHIPs act (American IC factories)
    veteran’s health bill

  4. I also liked the face that he made a point of saying, several times, that EVERY SINGLE REPUBLICAN voted against the bill. He and Kamala Harris, I heard, are going to go on a victory tour of sorts, touting all his accomplishments ahead of the midterm elections? Good.

  5. Not a bad bill and not a great or even a really good bill. There’s too much pandering in it, things that will not achieve much of anything and the idea of Inflation Reduction is a joke if it doesn’t reduce the money supply (M2) or increase investment.

    That said it’s a return to semi-normality of government where you accept 70% or 50% of what you want and try for the rest another time. |
    Now, how about bringing back actual committees, committee hearings and having bills going through the hard and dirty work of hearings, negotiations, compromise (yes) before you have a bill head to the floor. The % of bills that go thru committee have been on a steady downhill run for a decade (3 administrations and multiple party control of congress so we cannot blame just one group).. and that leads to party leader/activist writing bills behind closed doors and presenting them fait accompli for voting, which is bad for all. You end up with poorly written laws that haven’t been vetted and are ripe for abuse (think Trump and the term “national security”).

    But, still, it’s a start… which is better than where we’ve been.

  6. I’ve always maintained that government is like sausage, and as much as we enjoy the results, nobody really wants to see sausage (or government) being made. I firmly believe this is part of the reason 45 didn’t win a second term, because watching someone figure out how to govern while we were simultaneously figuring out what our federal government actually DOES, was painful. The mistake we don’t want to make now is thinking that we’re back to grownups being (more or less) in charge and therefore, the rest of us can ignore the sausage. We need to get out and vote, in overwhelming numbers, in November…..just to keep from getting another head first into a tub of guts.

  7. Above, two completely different takes on Biden’s record and your description of it.
    Demonstrating the ‘big tent’ the Democratic Party is, as opposed to the mono-culture of opinion on the Reichwing.

  8. But but but it’ll unleash 87,000 armed IRS agents onto the streets to kick in your doors and audit you at gunpoint.

    Or so says the instigator of the biggest Medicare fraud in history. Who for some odd reason is in the Senate and not jail….

    Actually the IRS agents will (check notes) maybe answer the goddamn phone now and again.

  9. Cishet male here. Old guy.

    I’ve lived in Texas since 1979, voted since 1980. I’m not a Progressive or even a Democrat, Rational voting or consideration of outcomes and consequences is lost to the majority of Texas voters, which is how we get Abbott and Cruz and Cornyn.

    The GOP says they are the only party which loves and obeys God, or implies the same via positions on anything regarding personal autonomy.

    I remember when I might have voted for a Republican, but those days are gone.

  10. As for “what government does,” as was asked above, NY Times best selling writer Michael Lewis has a book called “The Fifth Risk.” I really like it; it explains a lot.

    Lewis sat in on lots of “transition teaching” of three government departments. There is a law that incoming presidential administrations must be educated about their departments so that they can transition into understanding their power and responsibilities.

    The civil servants prepared to teach, but Trump was fantastically incompetent—often his team wouldn’t even show up to learn.

    As I say, Lewis learned a lot about the risks to America that are managed by, say, the mammoth department of agriculture, learned stuff that is not well explained to the US people. Hence the mistaken belief that government is bad. (“Government should be shrunk to bathtub size and then drowned”)

    I am reminded of Robert Heinlein writing that NASA didn’t explain how beneficial the space program was, not well enough to counter a belief that the space program was purely a waste. (So Heinlein pointed out being able to monitor hospital patients without needing wires to their body, miniaturization for hearing aides, onboard computer-sized computers for hospitals instead of needing a room sized computer, and I forget what else)

    If anyone else, besides Lewis, wants to step up to the plate, well, I think there is a place for education about government. Say it proud, “Government for peace!”

  11. black voting rights? DAMAGED / IGNORED

    women’s medical rights? DAMAGED / IGNORED


    combating climate change? TOO LITTLE / MAYBE TOO LATE

    at this moment, yeah, good to have ‘half a loaf’ since in ten years those alterations to infrastructure will be seen by many as good things… problem is this is 2022 not 2032

    not only am I continuing to day drink but giving serious consideration to buying ‘med weed’ so I can day toke as the nation slides along in a slow avalanche of avoid stupidities…

    the coming die off will not include me, I’ll be gone by then but anyone born after 1990 will be here to watch numbers blur by on web sites as there’s a sudden sharp downturn in populace… HUMANITY will not go extinct nor will CIVILIZATION fall but there will be so much avoidable suffering… BBB was not perfect but it would have done so much, much more…

    I promise not to bogart the bong

  12. Remember, your primary vote probably counts more than the general election. My plan is to vote in the Republican primary, against the Trumnp-endorsed guy. (The Dem will probably win the general but I get to send a message.)

  13. I still think this administration had an extraordinarily bad first two years. And I thought this deal was there to be had a year ago if the democrats had realized they weren’t going to get their cake and eat it too. I am encouraged that a few in the Republican party are realizing nothing good comes from Trump and that not all problems are political constructs and must be dealt with (Health Care, Climate Change, Guns etc…). Immigration is still an absolute dumpster fire and I have still seen no clear directive from this administration in how they plan to deal with it.

    The wreck Trump left this country in when he left was such that I couldn’t imagine Biden being anything but immensely popular after two years, and yet they screwed much of it up. This is an incredibly difficult time to govern, but they promised they could do it and I think have failed much more often than they succeeded. And this is coming from a very left leaning individual. I’m afraid what the independents must be thinking. My vote will likely be a vote against Trumpism much more than a vote for the Democratic party and what they did/did not accomplish.

  14. I cast a vote for Biden with extremely low expectations. Very happy to admit that I was wrong. The last few weeks have been terrific, but I was also impressed by his principled stand on issues where he had little chance of success, and could have opted to stay quiet.

    Meanwhile the GQP seems to have completely given up on any semblance of a coherent agenda. On the primary level, it’s all about lying about the 2020 election. On the national level, it’s that, plus a pinch (more like a handful) of white supremacy and their usual gerrymandering/voter suppression shenaningans.

    Trump’s four years in office can be summarized as “the plan is that there is no plan”. We saw how well that worked during the pandemic. Looks like we can expect more of the same if the Party of QAnon worms its way back into power.

  15. @Howard_NYC (not so many refrigerated trucks)
    You are very pessimistic.
    The question is, are you pessimistic ENOUGH.

  16. “That said it’s a return to semi-normality of government where you accept 70% or 50% of what you want and try for the rest another time.”

    I’d concede semi-normality here if the 70% or 50% in this case was the result of negotiation between the two parties to get bipartisan support, a common outcome I saw when I was younger.

    Unfortunately, that’s not what happened here. Instead, one of the parties had to settle for 70% or 50% just to get support from enough of its own members to compensate for the other party refusing any support whatsoever. (Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, just like none of them voted for the Affordable Care Act back when that was passed with numerous concessions made from the original proposal.)

    When the GOP shows a willingness to participate in responsible bipartisan governance, and stops trying to prop up its former president and subvert the will of the voting citizenry, I’ll be happy and relieved to say we’re getting back to semi-normality. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, and whether we get closer or further away may depend a lot on the outcome of this November’s elections.

  17. Biden’s not actively evil, and is doing some good. Hooray for him. However, he did promise to codify Roe v Wade, and look where we are now. I am distinctly not impressed with him. He’s fine, I guess, as old rich straight white men go.

  18. What’s your perception of how the election for Rob Portman’s seat is playing out? Does Ryan have a chance?

  19. Ryan and Portman are from diff states. Tim Ryan’s opponent is J D Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, an autobiographical novel which puts his family and everyone else from Appalachia down hard. He wants to claim he braved everything in opposition to his success and got rich on his own, which is mostly false. I’m from coal country, went to a local university, did just fine as an IT person, now retired and happy.

    I’m not sure who is running against Portman, which race is in WI, I think.

    The commenters who don’t think Joe Biden has done much in his 19 or so months haven’t done their homework, I can’t list his accomplishments from memory, but there are literally a dozen or more major things he has gotten done with a 50-50 Senate, which to me in this political environment is simply amazing. Early on the American Rescue Act which helped people deal with a pandemic that killed over a million of us.

    The biggest increase in employment ever. Huge reduction in unemployment to go with the increase in employment. A major improvement to the American Care Act program aka Obamacare. Major infrastructure funding, for highways, Amtrak, sewers and water plants, etc. and a fight against climate change!

    I expect the former president to be indicted soon, hopefully before the end of October. He isn’t on a ballot anywhere, and so shouldn’t fall under the DoJ policy of not starting a criminal case close to an election.

    I think the former president is now working to obtain jury nullification in his future trials, trying to poison the jury pool so that at least one true believer will be able to lie about their political beliefs and be empaneled on a petite jury. This would be less likely in DC than in FL, and Atlanta might be pretty good for an honest jury.

    I certainly hope both the former president and many of his administration’s ranking government officials wind up in various Federal prisons.

  20. @just different, @JR in WV

    Rob Portman is a Republican Senator from Ohio. He’s retiring and Ryan and Vance are running for his seat. It SHOULD be a safe GOP hold based on recent Ohio elections but there are signs that Vance may be vulnerable.

    Ron Johnson is a Republican Senator from Wisconsin who is running for reelection. He appears to be highly vulnerable.

  21. Everyone is saying “mostly a climate bill” but if you look at the electric car section, it is mostly an industrial policy bill. It uses climate change as a stalking horse for forcing production to move to the US. When it takes effect, most electric vehicles will be ineligible. A serious attempt to address climate change would not do that.

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