The jury’s still out on whether Build Back Better is really, truly dead. Some think that there’s still a deal to be made after Senator Joe Manchin unceremoniously blew up negotiations over the weekend. Others argue that, if Manchin isn’t satisfied with a bill that has already been thoroughly hacked and chiseled to conform to his demands, he won’t accept anything. But whichever camp you fall in, it’s clear that the landmark legislation is unlikely to remain the only topic in town next year. (Indeed, as important as the needs requiring BBB are, the executive branch is always also critical). As our political leaders prepare for the post-Build Back Better world, we ask that they consider making the following resolutions for the New Year.
With Senator Manchin seemingly blocking all new legislation, not just Build Back Better, congressional progressives are searching out new avenues to deliver on the party’s promises. Their answer? Pressuring the administration to make use of every ounce of its executive authority. Already, the addition of leading progressive voices to calls for executive action is raising their profile. It’s important, however, that lawmakers’ efforts do not stop there. Members of Congress have significant power to make the executive branch work for the public. Here are some of the most consequential examples:
Give agencies the resources they need to do big things: As we’ve documented extensively, agencies across the federal government lack the resources they need to adequately fulfill their existing responsibilities, let alone tackle new initiatives as effectively as possible. Robust executive action will require not only will, but greater capacity. So far, however, lawmakers have deferred action to fill that need, leaving the federal government operating under Trump-era funding levels, as they focused all of their energy on Build Back Better. You cannot adequately enforce antitrust, environmental, financial regulation, or workplace safety laws, e.g., with sequester and Trump-era staffing levels.
Democrats will have their next opportunity to change that come February when the current continuing resolution expires. They must not squander it. Moreover, as they approach that deadline, they must revisit their funding proposals in light of the renewed focus on executive action and Build Back Better’s likely defeat. Funding for the antitrust agencies that was originally included in Build Back Better, for example, must be swept into an omnibus funding bill.
Confirm agency leaders faster: Last week, Senate Majority Leader Schumer held the chamber in session until 4 on Saturday morning to confirm dozens of previously stalled nominees. Yet, those confirmed represent just a drop in the bucket of those who still need to be. At some agencies, those delays translate directly into inaction. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for example, can’t take formal action on climate related financial risk (or many other topics) because it lacks a quorum. The Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, can’t act on broadband because it is needlessly gridlocked: Two Democrats vs. Two Republicans. Elsewhere, the Merit Systems Protection Board can do nothing to address a backlog of over 3000 cases while the three nominees to fill its vacancies languish in the Senate. Whether it’s making nominations a higher priority or exploring changes to accelerate the confirmation process, it’s clear that something needs to change in the New Year.
Deploy oversight powers: Congressional Democrats should also use their oversight powers to make this administration more effective. Letters, requests for information, and hearings are all potent means to turn up the pressure when officials are not taking action or not moving quickly enough. Oversight does not just have to be adversarial, however. Investigations and hearings targeting corporate wrongdoers could complement the administration’s crackdown on elite misbehavior. Similarly, inquiries into the Trump administration’s enduring legacy, in the form of personnel or administrative changes, could help identify obstacles that might undermine Biden administration actions and build a case to address them.
Biden, do more: Our advice for Biden has been the same from the moment he took office: use every bit of executive branch authority at your disposal, as quickly as possible, to advance the public interest. He’s still very far from that goal. In the New Year, he should resolve to close the distance. There’s not room here to list every action that we at RDP believe he should take but I will highlight a couple that are at the top of our mind. If you’re looking for a longer list, we recommend The American Prospect’s Day One Agenda.
- Finish firing Trump holdovers: Whether it’s Jelena McWilliams at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Chris Wray at the FBI, or Michael Carvajal at the Bureau of Prisons, President Biden should show them the door. These are too important of positions to leave in the hands of figures intent on protecting and advancing Trump’s agenda. (Bonus New Year’s Resolution for the press: Fact check Trump holdovers’ claims. In an ongoing battle at the FDIC, Chair McWilliams has demonstrated that she’s more than happy to lie).
- Crackdown on corporate misbehavior: As Biden’s approval ratings continue to suffer and the gloom of a new wave of the virus takes hold, this administration needs a fast-acting remedy to show that it’s working for working people. Cracking down on rampant corporate wrongdoing could be just the ticket. It’s overwhelmingly popular, attention-grabbing, and relatively quick to produce results (especially when compared to implementing new regulations).
Secretary Buttigieg, do your job: A few weeks ago, my colleagues Daniel Boguslaw and Dylan Gyauch-Lewis wrote in The American Prospect about how Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg seemed to be more concerned with getting on TV to discuss legislation than with using his considerable authority to address the supply chain crisis. Since then, Buttigieg has failed to take meaningful action, but he has added another stop on his speaking tour: CES, the annual conference for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), one of the largest tech trade groups. CTA counts Uber and Lyft among its ranks, companies that have been famously, vehemently opposed to efforts to reclassify drivers as employees. As Daniel and Dylan highlighted, working with the Secretary of Labor on such an effort is among the tools in Buttigieg’s arsenal to address problems in the trucking industry, where misclassification is rampant.
Secretary Raimondo, cease the sabotage: On competition policy, the Biden administration has consistently exceeded expectations with outstanding appointments and widespread executive action. There is, however, one official who seems to have missed the memo: Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. Earlier this month, Raimondo expressed concerns that an E.U. proposal to regulate Big Tech companies would “disproportionately impact U.S.-based tech firms and their ability to adequately serve EU customers and uphold security and privacy standards.” As Senator Elizabeth Warren noted in a letter to Raimondo the following week, Raimondo’s comments “publicly undermine the Administration’s previously announced policies to protect consumers and workers from Big Tech monopolies.” And given their tax “avoidance” strategies, it is extremely dubious to term non-US tax paying companies like Facebook (er, “Meta”) “American” in any meaningful sense. In 2022, Raimondo should resolve to support, not oppose, the administration’s policies cracking down on multinational corporations.
Attorney General Garland, stop protecting Trump and start fighting for Biden’s agenda: Almost a year after President Trump left office, Merrick Garland’s Justice Department continues to zealously defend some of the former administration’s policies. In contrast, the DOJ’s defense of key Biden administration policies has been decidedly lackluster. Garland would do well to remember he’s the people’s lawyer and enforcing the people’s laws against elites, even from the opposing political party, is not a “partisan act” And if he can’t manage to perform those roles energetically, he should resolve to find a different job.
Landrieu, don’t mess this up: A profile in The Intercept last week raised serious concerns about Infrastructure Czar Mitch Landrieu’s record on fossil fuels. Now, with Build Back Better seemingly dead, Landrieu is in charge of overseeing administration of what may be the only piece of “climate” legislation to pass this Congress. That package leaves a great deal up to administrative discretion and even leaves room for funds supposedly earmarked for clean investments to go to fossil fuel infrastructure. Landrieu’s resolution should be to ensure that not a penny under his control does.
Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week: