In a joint address to Congress on Wednesday night, President Joe Biden outlined what can accurately be described as the most expensive and expansive agenda in modern American history.
Biden has proposed $6 trillion in new spending since taking office and has already signed $1.9 trillion in emergency spending related (loosely) to the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to follow that with a huge infrastructure bill, a $15 national minimum wage, Buy American rules that offer protectionism for unions, and new entitlement programs—including a new child subsidy program for parents and a permanent expansion of Obamacare health insurance subsidies. He promised to raise taxes on the wealthy and to sic the IRS on rich people who don't pay "their fair share."
A few minutes after Biden wrapped up his remarks, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D–N.Y.) said that's not nearly enough.
"The proposals that President Biden has put forward over the last few weeks would represent important steps—but don't go as big as we'd truly need in order to solve the crises of jobs, climate, and care. We need to think bigger," said Bowman, who was speaking on behalf of the Working Families Party, a progressive third party that frequently caucuses with Democrats.
Thinking bigger, in some cases, means pushing for greater accountability from law enforcement and other individuals in the public sector. Biden made some vague promises about that during his remarks but Bowman was right to be more pointed in specifically calling "to end qualified immunity," the court-created legal doctrine that often shields police from civil liability when they harm civilians.
"Whether you're a clerk, a teacher, or a member of congress you should be held accountable for your actions. Police cannot be above the law," Bowman said. That's a marked and welcome departure from the Biden administration's lukewarm perspective.
Mostly, however, going bigger means spending a lot of money on just about everything. It means passing the Green New Deal to combat climate change, Bowman said. But not just that. "We need a Green New Deal for Public Housing," he said. "We need a Green New Deal for Cities…and we need a Green New Deal for Public Schools." The Green New Deal might not succeed as a piece of legislation or as a template for ending global warming, but it certainly has succeeded as a branding exercise.
More than anything else, Bowman's response illustrated the extent to which the progressive image for America is one in which government has greater control over just about every aspect of life.
"Every part of our society must become part of the answer," he said, "because this crisis is urgent." It's not entirely clear which supposed crisis he was referencing.
Biden has already embraced the governing-by-crisis approach and has adopted other progressive ideas into his first-year agenda. Like Bowman, Biden called for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a union-backed bill that would kill state-level right-to-work laws and force workers in some professions to contribute to unions whether they want to join or not. Like Biden, Bowman suggested that billionaires should be targeted with higher taxes because they've seen their wealth increase during the pandemic.
Still, progressives are unlikely to be satisfied with Biden's agenda no matter how aggressively profligate it gets. That's in their nature. What's more worrying is how far they've already managed to push Biden—with the notable exception of criminal justice reform—and how much more they intend to squeeze out of him.