Biden needs a quick win on Covid, with or without Republicans 

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Biden needs a quick win on Covid, with or without Republicans 

Joe Biden needs to emulate another aging star and quickly put some points on the board, just like Tom Brady.As the 43-year-old quarterback, thought

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Joe Biden needs to emulate another aging star and quickly put some points on the board, just like Tom Brady.

As the 43-year-old quarterback, thought to be on the downside of his career, just led Tampa Bay into the Super Bowl, the 78-year-old president, once written off as a relic, needs an early score (and fewer interceptions).

It’s not that the new president isn’t trying to get off to a fast start. And moving the gears of government is infinitely more complicated than even the toughest defense that Brady had to face with the Bucs. 

But Biden may be trying to do too much, which means his most important initiative may be blocked by the prevent defense that is Congress.

The spate of executive orders, many of them aimed at reversing Trump policies, are important but also something of a blur. Yes, the president is expanding food stamps, postponing evictions, promoting equality, canceling the Keystone pipeline, rejoining the Paris climate pact and the WHO–and, yesterday, lifting the ban on transgender troops and ordering the purchase of more American goods. But he can only do so much by signing a piece of paper.

Biden also faces a tough calendar, with a two-week window before the Senate impeachment trial of his predecessor. While that should allow time to confirm many of his nominees, given the media’s continuing addiction to Donald Trump, the trial will take the spotlight off Biden’s Covid relief bill in ways that could sap his momentum.

When I saw the measure’s $1.9-billion price tag, my assumption was the White House was aiming high in the belief that it would have to negotiate a less expensive version. Keep in mind the Hill just passed a $900-billion bill after months of partisan acrimony.

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But it turns out the Biden bill does more than just boost the vaccine rollout, increase stimulus and unemployment checks, aid small businesses and schools and help out states and cities. There are also such liberal wish-list items as raising the minimum wage to $15, which may be a fine idea but has little Republican support.

In fact, the president is getting pushback from lawmakers in both parties. On a Sunday call with a top economic aide, GOP Sen. Susan Collins asked why families earning as much as $300,000 would be eligible for Covid relief and urged greater targeting for those most in need. Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, also suggested the bill was too expensive. Mitt Romney told “Fox News Sunday” the nearly $2-trillion figure is “pretty shocking.”

Now, these consultations are part of the messy thing called democracy. But a new president has a fairly narrow window to pass his first big initiative before losing the post-election momentum.

For Trump, it was tax cuts. For Barack Obama, it was a big stimulus bill. Biden has Democratic control of both houses, and he has public alarm over the surging virus. 

For that reason, getting distracted by side issues, like the minimum wage, would be a mistake. Bill Clinton made that blunder by talking about gays in the military at the very start of his term. Biden has plenty of time to fight cultural battles or try to pass an immigration bill that some conservatives are calling amnesty. But he’s got one shot at the country’s top priority.

Even reporters were being more aggressive in pressing Jen Psaki yesterday about opposition to the massive package.

So the president will face a stark choice. If he can make progress with the Republicans, he can pass a smaller, more targeted coronavirus bill and praise it as a bipartisan triumph. With a 50-50 Senate, even with Vice President Harris waiting in the wings, he can’t lose a single Democratic vote. And he really needs 60 to avert a potential filibuster.

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Or he can pull the plug on negotiations and slam through his bill solely with Democrats with a budget process called reconciliation. Both parties have used such maneuvers, so there’s no grand moral issue involved. But it would be an abandonment of his heartfelt appeals for unity and probably poison relations with the GOP for some time to come.

The public doesn’t care about arcane parliamentary procedures. Most Americans want results. Whether Biden calls a Brady-like play of running to the left, or does a bipartisan quarterback sneak up the middle, he–and the country–need a win against the pandemic.

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