Biden Budget Battle: Isn't Getting Some of What We Want Better Than Nothing?


Your friend doesn't owe you any money, but you would really like it if they gave you $100. I mean, who wouldn't? After making your case for why you are deserving of this gift, your friend finally agrees to deal. "I'm not going to give you $100. That's too much for me right now, but I will give you $50." Do you take the $50 or storm out of the room with nothing because you didn't get the $100 you requested? If you are a reasonable person, I'll assume you now have $50 you didn't have a moment ago. I'll also make the bold suggestion that this might be a good thing.

This is what comes to mind when I see progressives expressing outrage on social media because President Biden isn't getting everything he asked for on his Build Back Better agenda. Some are even threatening to vote against Democrats in the future because they didn't get everything that was requested! Would more money to pay for more programs be nice? Absolutely! There are many worthwhile programs that would benefit many people, and it is a shame to see some of them being cut. But don't we know by now how this works? Based on the numbers of Democrats in the Senate, two conservative Democrats were able to hold Biden's agenda hostage. I agree that this shouldn't be the case, but it looks like it is the case.

My question is a simple one: isn't it better to have something than nothing? In the context of political fights over budgets like this, isn't it almost always better to get something vs. having the whole thing go down in defeat? I understand the disappointment over the rapidly shrinking budget. In fact, I share it. But I know I'd rather have something than nothing. If Democratic voters decide to abandon the party because they didn't get as much money as they wanted, it seems far more likely that they will end up with nothing next time.

Ideally, Democrats would have the numbers in Congress to easily pass progressive legislation. A couple of conservative Democrats wouldn't be able to hold up anything. We could finally require the obscenely wealthy to pay their fair share. But this is unlikely to be the case anytime soon. It seems far more likely that Democrats will lose ground in 2022, possibly even paving the way for Trump 2024.

Some will say that the progressives on social media are just posturing in an effort to influence Senate Democrats. That might be the case, but is it reasonable to think that the couple of conservative Democrats undermining Biden's agenda are going to be influenced by a bunch of progressives who probably don't even live in their states? Perhaps there are other ways disgruntled progressives might channel their energy (e.g., doing something to make it more likely that Democrats can hang on to Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024). Or maybe I'm just being too reasonable by suggesting that get some of what one wants might be better than getting none of what one wants.

Update: Congratulations to President Biden and most of the Democratic Party for getting some of what they wanted on the much-needed bipartisan infrastructure bill. Here's hoping for continued success.