But this yo-yo style of government is not how things are supposed to work in the US. Big policy changes are supposed to move through Congress and then to the president’s desk, molded by the compromises necessary to get everyone to agree. Instead, with Congress absolutely stuck on key issues for the past 15 years — give or take — presidents have settled into a pattern of making executive policy on their own, which has resulted in them doing and then undoing each other on key issues. (That is, unless the courts step in first.)
But other actions he signed, including the major ones on Wednesday — re-joining the global climate change effort and protecting undocumented children raised in the US — are the duct-tape version of governing. Biden essentially undid what Trump had done to undo what Obama had done.
Consider immigration. Biden plans to push for a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Presidents have been trying to get a comprehensive immigration plan through Congress for 15 years.
Trump, who started with a GOP-dominated Congress, came in with his own agenda involving a border wall. He didn’t really even try the normal route, instead declaring a national emergency at the border to funnel money to his wall project. So Biden has rescinded Trump’s national emergency and halted the wall.
And climate change. An existential threat deserves actual legislation to address the problem in a serious and effective way. But a coordinated climate change policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions is, if anything, more difficult to achieve than immigration reform.
Think about this:
Bill Clinton put the US in a global climate agreement. (Kyoto)
George W. Bush pulled the US out.
Obama put the US in a global climate agreement. (Paris)
Trump pulled the US out of Paris.
Legislating is hard on purpose; it’s what was supposed to generate compromise in our big, messy democracy. Instead, it’s led to absolute gridlock. Even when Congress can get something big done (Obamacare, for instance), the effort to protect it from being undone becomes so all-consuming that making reasonable fixes becomes impossible.
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