By Peter Morici
Americans have awarded Joe Biden the White House but not a mandate to implement the radical platform he embraced to solidify support from Bernie Sanders and other progressives.
Joe Biden’s more affable demeanor and centrist leanings defeated Donald Trump’s disruptive governing style and poor public leadership addressing the pandemic, but the big blue wave down ballot did not materialize. Republicans will likely hang on in the Senate, scored impressive gains in the House, and held their edge in governorships and state legislatures , critical for redistricting .
Liberal California shot down ballot initiatives to reinstate affirmative action in state hiring and university admissions, extend rent control, raise taxes on commercial landlords and force Uber /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER -4.14% , Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT -2.41% and delivery drivers to become employees. Illinois rejected a graduated income tax .
Voters’ free-market sentiments have limits too. Trump won Florida, and the GOP flipped House seats by warning that the Democratic Party’s is embracing socialism . However, the Sunshine State approved gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2026 .
The country is moderate, not split. It’s the intellectual establishment in the media, academia and hard-left politicians that embrace critical race theory , the cancel culture and alleged failures of capitalism , or embrace hard-right conservative attitudes to severely circumscribe government involvement in labor markets and achieving broader social equity.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went into the elections with approval ratings south of Donald Trump . Pelosi’s strident posture in stimulus negotiations with the White House was blamed by some colleagues for Democratic losses .
Biden does not have a mandate for radical left policies, and the GOP in the Senate ought to cooperate on moderate proposals to address climate change, reform policing, and accomplish greater inclusiveness in American prosperity.
Republican senators should recall what happened to Tom Daschle with a similarly closely divided Senate during George Bush’s first term. John Thune defeated the Democratic leader in 2004 after labeling him the “chief obstructionist,” and the GOP won control of the House.
Biden should shelve his most aggressive tax proposals and instead focus on first getting the country through the vaccination phase and implementing comprehensive testing and tracking to curb COVID-19 , as Japan, South Korea , Norway and Finland have accomplished. And support economic recovery with a substantial stimulus plan that includes aid to states that replaces the $434 billion in lost revenue imposed by the pandemic.
Voters can be persuaded to support taxes tied to specific purposes . For example, raising the gas tax, which has been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993 , and some user fees to finance better roads and bridges, and to help subsidize the transition to electric vehicles.
EVs are a tough nut because not every home has a garage or driveway—providing curbside and parking lot charging for folks in urban townhouses and apartments is challenging. The California mandate that all vehicles sold be zero emissions by 2035 would be better replaced by a requirement at least be a plug-in hybrid.
Americans like industrial policy but conservatives have too often demagogued it as socialism. Without it we would not have had the Erie Canal , Homestead Act , Morrill Act , which created schools of agricultural science and engineering that became our great state universities, the transcontinental railway , and American leadership in aviation and space exploration.
Political leaders were giving broad constituencies what they wanted and acting within technological possibilities. Hence, they were moving in directions market forces could support. That stands in sharp contrast to the blue-skyed Obama administration’s failed initiatives in high-speed rail and Solyndra .
A lot has changed since those days. Solar, wind and battery technologies have advanced . Five of the largest utilities—Southern Co. /zigman2/quotes/208000495/composite SO -0.14% , Xcel Energy /zigman2/quotes/200626850/composite XEL +0.17% , Duke Energy /zigman2/quotes/201480230/composite DUK -0.47% , Dominion Energy /zigman2/quotes/206853976/composite D -0.19% , and Public Service Enterprise Group /zigman2/quotes/201831904/composite PEG +0.21% —have set goals to be carbon-free by 2050. Many others are embracing similar objectives.
Sitting down with the industry to find ways to accelerate those technological possibilities and move up the zero-carbon target makes a lot of sense.
Voters made clear Biden should be practical and pragmatic but who he appoints to head the EPA and other federal departments—radicals or pragmatic deal makers—will importantly determine his success and legacy.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.