It’s not yet certain, but it is looking likely that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States, the Democrats will retain control of the House and the Republicans control of the Senate.
What this would mean is that Biden’s big policy reform agenda is off the table. No green new deal. No court-packing. No new states. No Medicare for all.
This leaves a Biden administration just two policy levers to affect his agenda (announced, revised or emerged). The first lever is foreign policy, which has historically been the realm of the President. The second lever is executive action and executive orders.
On foreign policy, Australia and the rest of the world have reason to be alert. While Biden may be surrounded by some sensible people who are familiar to Australians, including Kurt Campbell and Michelle Flournoy, Biden will also be surrounded by less sensible people such as Kamala Harris and Susan Rice. But the main issue will not be those around Biden but Biden himself.
Apart from his clearly diminished faculties, Biden’s foreign policy judgement is, as the French describe, merde. Robert Gates, former Defence Secretary for both President Obama and President Bush 43 wrote in his recent book that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”. This is the Joe Biden whose default solution to sectarian conflict anywhere in the world is to partition and hasn’t partition worked a treat every it has been applied in modern history.
Of equal alarm might be what a President Biden might try through executive action.
A strong and prosperous America is essential for Australia’s national security. But with the ability to reverse many of President Trump’s deregulatory actions with nothing more than a ‘phone and pen’, a President Biden could throw sand into the gears of the US economy, sand which President Trump’s officers have spent years clearing out.
This is not a small risk. Senator Elizabeth Warren is a favourite to be President Biden’s Treasury Secretary. This is the same Elizabeth Warren whose favourite phrases include “big, structural change”. The same Elizabeth Warren who wants to implement a confiscatory wealth tax and who wants to reserve 40% of board directors for employees.
Imagine also if Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes or Senator Bernie Sanders were given an executive office in a Biden administration.
The best chance to limit the economic and regulatory frolics of a Biden administration is actually the most effective elected Republican of the last 30 years, Senator Mitch McConnell.
It was McConnell who enhanced the chances for a 2016 Trump victory by denying Judge Garland a hearing for a Supreme Court nomination. This forced candidate Trump to issue a list of judges for Supreme Court nomination. It was McConnell who eased the path for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court and also Amy Coney Barrett (I love her mind. I love her shoes.)
Importantly, this reconstituted Supreme Court is increasingly interested in the reach of the administrative state and is seemingly looking to re-emphasise the non-delegation doctrine. This is the doctrine that states that only the parliament has the power to write laws and does not allow regulatory and administrative agencies to legislate or quasi-legislate. This is also a doctrine the Australian High Court should revisit given it is Section 1 of the Australian Constitution. Not to mention the actions of Australian regulatory agencies as empowered by sloppy and lazy Australian Parliaments.
It will also be McConnell who can block President Biden’s nominations for departmental heads (including but not limited to State, Defence and Treasury).
The moral to the story is that while many have focused on the result for the Presidential election, the numbers in the US Senate are equally important in containing the insane policy fantasies of the US Democratic Party.
May Mitch McConnell live to 150 years.
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