What does social spending mean for American power?

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It started as a sprawling and unique expansion of the social safety net: an ambitious $ 3.5 trillion plan to expand access to health care, public education and paid parental leave, affecting the lives of almost all Americans. But, as you heard on The Daily this week, the Social Spending Bill was reduced to a smaller version after Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia brought forward. expressed repeated objections to specific provisions.

On the show, we explained the dramatic national implications of legislative compromises negotiated by Democrats. But as the president heads overseas for a diplomatic marathon with world leaders this weekend, we want to use this newsletter to pick up where we left off today’s episode – and ask how the impacts of these bills will reverberate beyond our borders.

The Daily strives to reveal a new idea in each episode. Below, we dig deeper into a clip from our show this week.

The Biden administration faces a week that could determine the president’s legacy.

At home, Biden has made it clear that his presidency, the Democrats’ midterm electoral prospects and the welfare of millions of Americans are at stake as Democrats negotiate a compromise on his welfare spending bill. . But before leaving for two major international summits, the G20 summit and the COP26, he also framed this moment in terms of America’s international reputation: “It’s about running the world or letting the world overtake us. . he said.

So we wanted to ask a few experts: is this moment really a referendum on America’s world power, as Biden said? Here are three ways they said the president’s bill was important to U.S. diplomacy.

Biden comes to two major summits facing a test: Can he regain global leadership and reassure allies that the United States can be trusted as a cohesive partner?

“Allies and friends are generally concerned about what is happening to our democracy,” said Joseph S. Nye Jr., a Harvard professor who coined the term “soft power.” He added that while many allies were “thrilled to see America return to multilateral institutions,” many now wonder whether entrenched polarization could make American leadership unreliable – and subject to increasingly dramatic fluctuations in the future. function of the party in power.

“They ask themselves: are we going to see rockers back and forth? Said Dr Nye. He added that the allies were particularly concerned about the misinformation, as well as the lack of public and congressional consensus on the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.

For Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the United States and the Americas program at Chatham House, the social spending bill is a chance to prove that “American leadership can not only sound good and look good, but it can actually sound good. be effective, ”she said. She noted that building consensus and overcoming ingrained partisanship was “Joe Biden’s great promise.”

Now the social spending bill is both “a referendum on President Biden and whether a president can run a system that the rest of the world probably perceives as a little broken,” she said. .

Due to political polarization, Dr Nye believes the allies will be less willing to “treat us like the pole star to guide their policies” in the long run. However, he sees bold climate action, as outlined in the Social Spending Bill, as a way to reaffirm some global leadership that was lost in the Trump era.

The United States officially withdrew from the Paris climate agreement under Donald Trump. Biden quickly joined the deal after taking office, and the climate became the most important category of his social spending bill. The climate crisis is now at the center of his party’s national agenda ahead of the world climate summit in Glasgow. (It was not clear this week whether all Democrats would support the package.)

“There are very few people on this planet who think America is on the right side of climate change in terms of its cars and energy use,” said Dr Vinjamuri. But getting Democrats to vote for the $ 555 billion proposed for climate programs would be a first step in helping the “United States achieve its goals,” she added, giving the country “the legitimacy to lobby. others to achieve their goals ”.

With the spending bill not yet finalized, Dr Vinjamuri notes that what is left out in the legislation could also have implications for the US position abroad, sending a clear signal. to foreign citizens about what the United States values.

“Our soft power is massively affected,” she said, by the news that paid family leave – a public good provided by other developed countries – is likely to be removed from the social spending bill . The people who receive these benefits “just don’t get it, and they can’t imagine that it could be anything but crippling for the United States in the long run,” she added.

Dr Nye argues that when it comes to the social safety net, “America has always been inadequate in the eyes of Europeans,” he said. While he supports the proposals and believes a lack of paid family leave “hurts us”, he believes “other sources of influence”, such as expanding US vaccine diplomacy, would help further. to improve America’s position abroad.

Yet both agree that world leaders are ultimately more focused on threats to the US political system. “The fact that we can lose the quality of our democracy which has been the basis of America’s position in the world,” said Dr Nye, “is the real threat to our soft power.”


This week you may remember hearing the ominous string music in Monday’s episode on Evergrande, or the deep hum and pulsing dulcitone behind yesterday’s recap of The murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Our audio team consists of three dedicated composers – Elisheba Ittoop, Marion Lozano and Dan Powell. Below, we’ve asked Elisheba and Marion a few questions about how they make their music.

Every morning, the Daily team meets to discuss upcoming episodes and share new pitches. Our three composers take turns attending these meetings, and then we debrief on the stories that we think could benefit from an original score.

Usually more than one of us is eager to compose music for an episode, so we tend to team up. We assign a lead songwriter who is responsible for communicating with the producers of the episode and understanding their vision of the episode, and then translating that vision clearly to the other composers.

There is a saying that “talking about music is like dancing to architecture”. If a producer told us, “This moment should sound blue,” we probably would all have found some drastically different musical clues. Elisheba could take the route of the sun and the butterflies, while Marion could return with a motive of death and destruction. (It actually happened!) This is why it is vital for us to assign a lead composer to each episode. If one of us gets lost, the main composer will bring us back.

Earlier this month, The Daily aired an episode titled “Which Cities Are Worth Saving?” on the effects of climate change on two North Carolina cities, Avon and Fair Bluff. Elisheba is originally from North Carolina, so she felt a personal attraction to the story.

A few weeks before the episode aired, Elisheba spoke to lead producer Michael Simon Johnson about the kind of vibe he wanted the rating to achieve. Elisheba wanted to make sure she and Michael were on the same page, so she did a playlist of songs it seemed very “North Carolina” to him: warm but a little melancholy, with a flat guitar and sparse instrumentation. Michael said the vibe of the playlist was exactly the right one.

Elisheba, Marion, Dan and audio colleague Chelsea Daniel ultimately composed the music for the episode, using the playlist as a starting point.

Here is a song Marion wrote that it’s supposed to sound like you’re walking the streets of Fair Bluff. It features both an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar, as she wanted the grain of the electric and the roundness of the acoustics. If you listen carefully, it also has subtle imperfections (like pitch errors and timing issues), which testify to the city’s troubled history of flooding:

Here is a song by Elisheba who feels beautiful and warm, but also sad. It conveys the idea that while the city can save itself in the short term, the threats of climate change are urgent and inevitable:

This actually happens quite often! For every line created by a composer, there are three more that do not appear in the final episode. It depends on variables like texture, tone and whether or not there is a good scene for it.

Every time we create a replica, we add it to our daily music library, which has over seven gigabytes of original music. Here are some examples:

You may remember hearing Elisha’s song called “A Fine Needle” in our episode about a young Afghan woman named N. Producer Lynsea Garrison was drawn to the song for its “weird quality” – like a “ballerina spinning in a jewelry box,” she said. “There was innocence and tension in there that I loved and, of course, just sadness.” Listen :

And Marion’s song “Cash Money” found a home in Monday’s episode of Evergrande, the collapsing real estate developer in China. It’s in a minor key, and it features strings and a piano engaging in dark tones. His inspiration was the musical theme of the television show “Succession”. Listen now:


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