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OPINION

Biden is racking up big wins both near and far

If the climate and health packages pass, it will be time to rewrite the narrative about the president.

Joe Biden has a strong record of accomplishments for a president who has been in office for just over a year and a half.Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg

Al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s terror heir, is dead, dispatched by a US drone strike while he took in the morning air on a balcony of a not-so-safe house in Kabul.

A historic climate package is not just alive but seemingly ready to pass Congress.

So, too, is a health-care package that should cut the cost of prescription drugs and would extend premium subsidies that make the Affordable Care Act live up to its name.

If and when they pass, it will be time to rewrite the narrative about Joe Biden.

For months, the storyline has been of a plodding, befuddled, inflation-beset president who is unable to function at the pace required in today’s whac-a-mole Washington.

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But events are playing havoc with that storyline.

Witness the climate deal that came as a midsummer surprise.

It’s big. How big? Well, says US Senator Edward Markey, long a leader on the fight to address climate change, the incentive-based climate package that now appears poised to pass the Senate would deliver almost the same reduction in greenhouse gases as were projected for the cap-and-trade system that sank in the Senate in 2009.

“Our goal was a 17 percent reduction by 2020 and a 42 percent reduction by 2030,” Markey told me. “This bill gets us to a 40 percent reduction by 2030.”

On the health-care front, the enhanced COVID-era Affordable Care Act subsidies that have saved the average plan buyer about $800 a year in premium costs would continue for three more years, thereby staving off sharp premium increases for those who purchase coverage on the health insurance exchanges.

“Biden’s arrival, plus the need for the American Rescue Plan, opened the window of opportunity to finally create genuine affordability, albeit for two years,” emailed John McDonough, a professor of public health at Harvard who worked on the legislation as a Senate health-care expert. “If three more years are added, that’s a rock-solid accomplishment for Joe Biden, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate majority leader Chuck] Schumer, and all the rest.”

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Meanwhile, “allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices may end up being one of the most lasting and consequential acts by this Congress,” emailed Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Add to that the historic Supreme Court appointment of Black jurist Ketanji Brown Jackson, plus last year’s big infrastructure law. There are even some recent bipartisan accomplishments and in an election year, no less: a modest gun-safety law and a measure to bolster US semiconductor chip capacity.

Put all that together and it’s a strong record of accomplishments for a president who has been in office for just over a year and a half.

In foreign policy, in addition to his terrorist-hunting successes, Biden has revitalized NATO and led an effective effort to blunt Russian designs on Ukraine. That at least counterbalances the incompetence on display in his administration’s one big foreign policy failure, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

That’s not to predict that all this will help Democrats stave off a Republican takeover of the House in November. The non-presidential party almost always makes significant gains in the midterms, and that trend seems likely to continue, particularly with inflation fueling strong discontent.

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There, Biden suffers from the accurate storyline that he and his team shrugged off concerns by well-respected liberal economists such as Larry Summers and Jason Furman that his stimulus plan was too big and would trigger inflation. That said, it’s hardly fair to blame Biden for all or even most of the inflation vexing the country. Worldwide, we have been about at the middle of the pack. Although our latest monthly inflation rate — 9.1 percent — grabbed headlines, the United Kingdom had a slightly higher rate, while Germany was at 8.5 percent. The July Eurozone rate was 8.9 percent.

Which is to say, inflation is hardly a problem unique to the United States.

Will that matter to voters? Not to the overly partisan or lightly informed, certainly, but it should to those who try to evaluate economics based on evidence.

Biden’s political persuasion problems, of course, aren’t just with disaffected voters in the middle. Some on the left are discontented that he hasn’t been able to deliver on the full range of his campaign promises. But in large part, that reflects a lack of realism about the difficulty of achieving change in a closely divided country and Congress, particularly one where anything at all controversial is subject to a Senate filibuster and thus requires 60 votes to move forward.

In this era, politics is combat, obstruction is easy, and progress is a continuing struggle. A compromise that gets you a significant part of what you wanted is far preferable to an absolutism that leaves you with nothing.

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If impatient progressives and younger voters can’t see that, then they, not Biden, are the ones unprepared to cope in the current era.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.