At the last minute, late on Tuesday afternoon, an impending mass homelessness crisis was averted. For now. Maybe.
It might be a misnomer to say it happened at “the last minute” when it was nearly three days after the last minute. Either way, on Tuesday evening, August 3, Chuck Schumer announced a thirteenth-hour extension of the eviction moratorium that expired on July 31, threatening to put millions of Americans out on the street just as COVID-19’s fourth wave ramps up. Schumer and his cohort quickly crowed about securing a replacement, set to last for 60 days and cover 90% of the country’s renters. To be clear, it is a fantastic outcome, but any celebration around it should be tempered by the fact that Democrats nearly failed to avert a crisis of their own making. After all, even though a June 29 Supreme Court ruling on the matter announced exactly when the moratorium would expire, only in the dwindling days of July did Democrats publicly push for doing anything about it. (“Really, we only learned about this yesterday,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi dubiously claimed on July 30, as the imminent expiration appeared inevitable.) Before progressive Missouri Representative Cori Bush camped out on the Capitol steps in protest, helping inspire massive support, it seemed as though the official position of Democrats was: “We’d sure like to do something about this problem, but we can’t—and it’s not our fault.”
It wouldn’t be the first time. Nor is it the first time that progressive demands on the Biden administration were met with a tenuous, belated response that seems practically begrudging. Biden’s agenda may on paper be “the most progressive since FDR,” but in reality it often seems like these kinds of policies are meted out as a sop, an afterthought, just enough to squelch dissent.
You can have a little social safety net, as a treat.
Biden campaigned under what we were told repeatedly was the most progressive platform of a Democratic nominee ever. Infrastructure, climate action, racial equity—all of these things, and more, were on the way. Victory was hard-won—the January 6 select committee will attest to that—and afterward, all eyes were on Biden to follow through on the promises that helped make it happen. Credit where credit is due: he did go refreshingly big on the COVID relief bill that he signed into law in March.
But it’s only part of what he promised, and it’s not enough.
“The question will be the tenacity,” Larry Cohen, a former union leader who chairs the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution told NBC News back in April. “These are the best proposals you could ever expect, but the question will be fighting for those things.”
That question has been answered thus far by a resounding “Occasionally.”
Beyond the American Rescue Plan—which, to reiterate, was a huge win—this administration’s progressive successes are currently hypothetical. Biden is not yet open to legalizing marijuana on the national level, despite how many people are currently in jail for a drug that is now legal in 19 states. Despite multiple campaign promises, he’s been AWOL on student-debt relief, claiming that it’s up to Congress, even though he already has the authority to wipe it out himself. Only seven of the thousands of children separated from their parents at the border have been reunited since Biden took office on January 20. And while the forthcoming infrastructure bill recognizes climate change as at least partially the extinction-level disaster it is, it doesn’t go nearly as far as Biden pledged to go in addressing the crisis.
Under this administration, Americans are microdosing progressivism. As much as Republicans labeled the Biden presidency a bait-and switch when he and the Dems passed the American Rescue Plan without their cooperation, the real bait-and-switch has been for those who may have got their hopes up at that point, only to see them stalled or dashed more and more ever since.
No one balked when President Trump failed to deliver progressive outcomes, despite some promises that sounded rather populist, because nobody expected them of him. However, the Biden administration has been soaking up accolades and FDR comparisons since March, while at the same time meeting progressives demands with kick-the-can-down-the-road half-measures. Whenever it comes to something like a minimum-wage hike, the administration’s hands are conveniently tied. They’d love to help but they can’t. If only that dastardly parliamentarian weren’t standing in the way! At this point, I think I’d almost rather hear a real ‘screw you’ from Trump than a fake ‘I’m sorry’ from Biden.
There is no ‘A’ for effort in politics—no Heart in the Right Place award for almost making something happen. At a certain point, it’s not enough to hear what this administration would like to but can’t accomplish while holding both legislative houses and the presidency—especially when moments like Tuesday’s moratorium extension prove that, with enough pressure, Democrats can find ways to flex their hard-earned power. The time is overdue to actually deliver progressive wins, or stop claiming that they’re even on the agenda.
It’s not as if these demands are wild, fringe policies that nobody wants; they’re quite popular. A full 62% of Americans support the $15 an hour minimum-wage hike; 53% of registered voters said global warming should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress as of January; and 60% of registered voters last November supported cancelling up to $50,000 per person in student debt. Biden knows that these ideas are popular: That’s why he explicitly promised to turn them into reality.
If Biden and his advisors are afraid of going too hard and getting accused of “doing a socialism,” well, that’s going to happen anyway. Attacks along those lines are unavoidable, so they might as well be earned. Too much is at stake to play it safe. On a political level, Biden can’t afford to snub the progressives who helped get him elected, and on a practical level, the country can’t afford to trudge along on the status quo—or even the current Status Quo Plus.
Too many Americans have had enough of just enough.