This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Nov. 4, 2021. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Following Terry McAuliffe’s Tuesday night loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial election and amid the White House’s ongoing failure to enact redistributive legislation due to obstruction from Republicans and right-wing Democrats in Congress, progressives are urging President Joe Biden to fully embrace and use his executive authority to challenge corporate power, which they say might give people a reason to vote for his party in next year’s midterms.
“The story of the midterm elections will be whether Biden chooses to spend the next 12 months focusing on speechifying pablum or substantive corporate accountability,” Jeff Hauser, the founder and director of the Revolving Door Project, wrote Wednesday in a blog post.
Hauser’s commentary came in the wake of McAuliffe’s defeat to “failed Carlyle private equity mogul-turned-Trump dog whistler Glenn Youngkin,” which progressives attributed to the conservative Democratic candidate’s utter lack of a pro-working class economic agenda—warning that unless they start campaigning on and delivering material gains for the vast majority, Democrats can expect similar outcomes nationwide one year from now.
“Why is a hysterical, imagined version of ‘critical race theory’ the main villain discussed in Virginia and elsewhere?” asked Hauser, who pointed out that “Glenn Youngkin’s firm, the Carlyle Group, fired thousands of unionized workers for profit.” While “a non-compromised nominee would have been able to hammer Youngkin on the ways his greed devastated real people and connected that critique to issues in Virginia,” McAuliffe, a Carlyle investor, was unwilling to do so.
Turning to Biden, Hauser wrote that “as their poll numbers slump,” the president and his administration “have mostly whimpered that they are the victims of circumstance.”
“These immensely powerful men too often make excuses by pretending to be helpless, primarily because they are afraid of making powerful enemies—most especially, corporations and the ultra-wealthy,” argued Hauser. “But if they and other Democrats refuse to fight for the people, the people will seek fighters elsewhere.”
Hauser proceeded to provide examples of how Biden’s executive branch could “enforce laws limiting corporate misbehavior—which would also be overdue good politics.”
For instance, asked Hauser, “if the Biden administration is so worried about supply chain disruptions, why isn’t it tackling the ultimate cause of the problem—corporate greed?”
“Profiteering companies embraced just-in-time logistics and swallowed any redundancies into bloated monopolies,” he added. “Why isn’t the Biden administration attacking firms which cared more about their dividends than their actual operations? Why isn’t the administration dusting off little-used statutory powers to mitigate and resolve these disruptions? Why is there no ‘Supply Chain Profiteering Task Force’ identifying the obstacles to normalcy in American transportation?”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has argued that it’s necessary to “put the pandemic behind us” in order to address supply chain issues, but Hauser criticized Buttigieg for refusing to immediately “us[e] federal law to fight for consumers and against profiteers.”
Moreover, Hauser asked, “how can we ‘put the pandemic behind us’ in a world that remains largely unvaccinated thanks to Big Pharma greed?”
As Public Citizen has stressed for months, the Biden administration could, with an investment of just $25 billion dollars—around 3% of what the US spends on its military each year—establish regional manufacturing hubs around the world to produce eight billion coronavirus vaccine doses in less than a year.
However, as of late August, Biden had spent less than 0.01% of the $16 billion in COVID-19 pandemic response funds provided by Congress to expand global vaccine manufacturing, according to PrEP4All.
While Moderna, which is raking in billions of dollars in profits thanks to its monopolization of publicly funded knowledge, has refused to share its vaccine recipe, the federal government owns a patent covering a key spike-protein technology used in the jabs, which gives it the legal authority to distribute the ingredient list and manufacturing instructions.
“Why hasn’t the administration fought tooth and nail to actually end the intellectual property restrictions which strangle our global vaccine supply for the sake of blood-stained profits?” asked Hauser.
As progressives welcome the reintroduction of drug price reform into the Build Back Better Act—while lamenting the fact that the new version is a hollowed-out shell of the overwhelmingly popular proposal to allow Medicare to secure a wide array of affordable medications through direct negotiations with pharmaceutical corporations—Hauser stressed that the White House is missing opportunities to tackle Big Pharma’s deadly price gouging in ways that circumvent opposition from industry-funded lawmakers, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
“Forget Manchin, Sinema, and narrow congressional majorities,” he wrote. “The executive branch has extraordinary powers to rein in that industry. Why hasn’t Biden used them?”
Last Thursday, in an attempt to appease a few conservative Democratic obstructionists, Biden unveiled a heavily gutted Build Back Better framework that proposes cutting the previously agreed-upon 10-year spending level in half, from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, by removing or watering down several popular provisions.
Just one day earlier, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that “the challenge that we face in this really unusual moment in American history is whether we have the courage to stand with the American people and take on very powerful special interests.”
“If we fail—in my view, if the American people do not believe that government can work for them and is dominated by powerful special interests, the very fabric of American democracy is in danger,” he added.
According to journalist David Dayen, even though “Biden didn’t get everything he claimed to want” in the budget reconciliation package, there is still a lot that he can accomplish through executive action. “His hands aren’t tied here,” said Dayen, who shared The American Prospect‘s “Executive Action Tracker,” which monitors 77 significant policies Biden can implement without relying on legislation from Congress.
And in a recent interview with Common Dreams, former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, the national co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, said that the voters who elected Biden “are going to want to see something that changes their lives.”
Turner argued that the president should use his executive power “in a deeper way” to fight for voting rights, and she recommended that progressives demand that Biden cancel $1.9 trillion worth of student loan debt in exchange for supporting his favored bills.
Hauser, meanwhile, said Wednesday that “America is in a populist moment. If Democrats won’t harness that then the right wing will, substituting their bigoted fantasies for the actual forces which make life worse for Americans.”
Hauser’s warning echoed a recent argument made by The Daily Poster‘s David Sirota and Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, who co-authored a piece in Rolling Stone to mark the start of their new podcast series Meltdown, which explores how the Democratic Party’s refusal to deliver real help to millions of people in the aftermath of the Great Recession “fueled the ascent of [former President] Donald Trump—and… continues to fuel the MAGA movement today.”
When responding to the Great Depression, the pair wrote, former President Franklin Roosevelt “cast his progressive economic initiatives as both a weapon to fight the economic crisis and a shield against right-wing authoritarianism.”
“Democrats still have time to wake up, realize the existential threat before them, channel Roosevelt, and enact policies that immediately help people in order to avert an even bigger meltdown than the one in 2016,” Sirota and Gibney argued. “But time is running out.”
In response to a critic who said that the article overlooked the extent to which Manchin and Sinema are responsible for undermining Biden’s agenda, Sirota also identified several ways in which the president has failed to use his existing executive authority, and others have detailed how much further Roosevelt’s executive branch went to stave off catastrophe.
According to Hauser, “Actual politics requires taking action against actual villains to solve problems, not the shrugging and cowering which elites persuade themselves is ‘savvy.'”
“There is no direct public policy response to the fantasies that the right-wing media ecosystem pushes,” he added, “but an active executive branch can generate an interesting counternarrative surrounding a president’s war on corporate corruption.”