Politics

In the News

The president as legislator in chief

Mike McCartney

1st April 2021

The case of Joe Biden's infrastructure and jobs bill

When the framers of the American constitution got together in Philadelphia in the fabled 'long hot summer' of 1787 it would have been impossible for them to imagine that one day the limited role they had designed for the head of the executive branch would have grown so much in size and scope that that person would one day be the de facto chief legislator.

Ever since the days of FDR, and the birth of what we now regard as the 'modern presidency' the POTUS has been expected to deliver on legislative promises made during their victorious election campaign.

With regards to the 46th holder of the office of the presidency, Biden has followed up the relatively smooth passage of his covid bill with a massive spending bill intended to upgrade US infrastructure and stimulate employment.

From the perspective of the A Level Politics course, reading the news this week has give me cause to remind students that if you want to expose yourself to material that will help with studies of the US element of the course, it is far better to go to US sources. Looking at the i, the story of one of Biden's dogs going rogue garnered more coverage (a couple of small columns versus none), and the Guardian print edition devoted a fair bit of newsprint to the contents of the bill, but only alluded to what is important in terms of A Level American Politics, what are the chances of Biden's bill actually becoming legislation.

The Guardian article is here: https://www.theguardian.com/us...

The thing is, that there is a massive gulf between the burdens placed on the White House incumbent in legislative terms and their ability to control the process.

Consider these quotes:

"The President and Congress are like two halves of a dollar bill, each useless without the other half." (Professor Samuel Finer in "Comparative Government" [I think!])

"In short, the President needs Congress." ("Presidential Power", Richard Neustadt)

"A mile and half is a long way." (Anthony King in "Both ends of the Avenue" [ed.]) - NB that a mile and a half is the geographical distance from the White House to Congress.

Each of these, by among the most well respected authors and academics in the field of American political science give a flavour of the constitutional structures and political reality that shape modern executive-legislative relations.

But before pointing readers in the right direction towards the best article I've seen on the politics of the Biden jobs bill, it would be remiss of me to say that BBC online was not bad on the idea of obstruction by the Republicans, and likely pork barrel politics from within Biden's own party.

See here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/bus...

This article posted on Politico.com is really essential reading for those who are not familiar with the hyper-polarisation that now plagues inside the beltway politics, or the arcane procedures that dominate the mechanics of the US Senate.

Here it is: https://www.politico.com/news/...

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