One of a series of conversations with industry figures about the 2022 midterm elections.
Writer-director Adam McKay hasn’t been a big fan of President Joe Biden. The Oscar-winning writer and director favored Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the last presidential election, and while he backed Biden overall, he was skeptical his presidency would mark a real change from the flood of special interests and money in politics.
But in an interview, McKay said Biden’s executive order to write off student debt surprised him.
Hollywood Democrats are pouring cash into midterms with a tinge of hope and plenty of caution
“I thought it was big. I felt it was a game-changer,” he said. Hobbs [the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade] I think it changed the whole trajectory of the mid runs.
He said he now believes Democrats have an outside chance of retaining their majority in the House and a better chance of retaining the Senate.
Shortly after Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act, the health and climate bill that is the cornerstone of his platform, McKay said he was a little lukewarm because he think that didn’t go far enough. Although the bill included cost controls on the price of insulin for Medicare patients, it did not do so for the general public, he noted.
McKay said the bill needed more things that would have an immediate tangible impact on people’s lives. Student debt relief, he said, is the kind of thing that will make such a difference. He said if Democrats could try to take one more step, like raising the minimum wage, it would be a step that “crosses red-blue lines.”
“I don’t do backflips, but if [Democrats] could do one more thing. Maybe it’s the child tax credit, or something that doesn’t seem to have been written by billionaires and business interests. They might be successful,” McKay said.
Democrats passed the Cut Inflation Act via Senate reconciliation rules, which allow certain budget items to pass by a simple majority and avoid reaching a 60-vote threshold to overcome a threat of systematic obstruction. Last year, the Senate congressman rejected an effort to include a minimum wage increase in the coronavirus relief package, but some lawmakers have pushed to pursue a hike to $15 an hour by d other means.
McKay also credited the White House for its defense of the student debt cancellation order.
Under the plan, those whose income does not exceed $125,000 will be eligible for debt relief of $10,000. Those with Pell Grants are eligible for debt forgiveness of up to $20,000. Longtime supporters of debt forgiveness, like Warren, argue it will ease a crushing burden for former students now in the workforce, many of whom face decades of loan repayments. She also noted on CNN that 40% of those who will be eligible for loan forgiveness do not have a college degree.
When Biden announced the plan, it was immediately criticized by Republicans and some Democrats as an unfair giveaway to those who went to college over those who didn’t. Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, called it “reckless” and argued it would make inflation worse. The GOP is considering legal action to block the order.
“I thought it was really funny because you had Republican after Republican slamming it – and I would throw in corporate neoliberals – and then you look and check and each had [Paycheck Protection Program] loan forgiveness,” McKay said. The White House Twitter account noted criticism from lawmakers whose loans were canceled, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
“I loved it,” McKay said of the White House’s response. “It should be strictly. It’s just normal politics. These are just basic facts that replicate nonsense.
McKay is a board member of RepresentUs, a group that works to reduce the undue influence of money in politics and pushes for anti-corruption laws. He criticized Biden and other Democrats who he said have been embraced by financial industry lobbyists over the course of their careers, but called the president’s actions on student debt “rather remarkable.”
“The idea that Joe Biden, of all people, is actually the one doing this, the fact that he’s trying, blows my mind,” McKay said. “I really didn’t think he had that in him.”
He added: “The main story is: ‘Are we going to save democracy now?’ And the way you do that is to show that government really works.
While polls show an improved picture for Democrats midterm, McKay said they should also be careful in their attacks on Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. Biden gave a speech on Thursday in which he warned that Republicans Trump and MAGA were a threat to democracy.
As alarming as the far-right movement may be for the president and many Democrats, McKay said “we can’t forget that parts of it were brought about by the failures of our government.” … There are extreme people, but there are also people who are just fed up with the system. So these are people we need to get back by showing that the system can work. He must be careful.