The Biden Political Capital Disadvantage



The concept behind the traditional politics/Biden Political Capital disadvantage is simple: the more power (political capital) that Biden has, the more likely it is that he will be able to get his agenda items passed through Congress. Since the President isn’t a member of Congress he needs to use his power/influence in the legislature to get this agenda passed.

Negatives focus on one of two ways that Presidents acquire power in the Congress — by sustaining high levels of public support or by building political support in the Congress. High levels of public/popular support arguably translate into more power for the President in the Congress because the Congress doesn’t want to go against the wishes of a popular President for fear of making themselves look bad. The President can arguably build political support directly in the Congress by not pushing policies that the Congress opposes. The amount of power/influence that a President has in the Congress is referred to as his political capital. The amount of political capital a president has is arguably limited. If he spends it on one thing, he will not have it available to use on something else.

In this essay, I will develop the “Biden good” disadvantage. This disadvantage argues that the plan is unpopular with the Congress and/or the public and that loss of political capital resulting either from a Congressional or a popular backlash means that the Biden administration will not be able to push through other policies that the President supports. Although you can run the disadvantage in the opposite direction, I have chosen this focus for a number of reasons. First, the most generic link evidence says that protecting civil liberties. will meet with political opposition.  If you find more specific link evidence for a particular case that says the plan is popular, you may wish to run it the other way. For now, I will keep the focus general. Second, I think it will be easier to understand my explanation if I keep the disadvantage going in one direction throughout the article.

Putting the Political Capital Puzzle Together

There are a number of puzzle pieces that you need to collect to put together a Biden Capital disadvantage. First, you need some generic link evidence that explains why more security cooperation with NATO is unpopular with the Congress. Generally, you need two different types of evidence. You need some evidence that says supporting civil liberties is opposed by the GOP, causing Biden to lose the support of his Republicans. And, you need some evidence that supporting the plan is opposed by moderate Democrats — the Democrats that he needs to win-over to get his policies passed.

Second, you need a lot of recent uniqueness evidence. You should always be updating your Politics disadvantage, including while you are at the tournament. There are three types of uniqueness evidence: link uniqueness, internal link uniqueness, and impact uniqueness. The link uniqueness for this disadvantage should say a number of things: that Biden is popular with the public now (hard, but you can at least argue that he’s popular enough), that he is popular enough to get his way with Congress, and that he is liked (enough) by Congress. The internal link uniqueness evidence should say that he has a lot (or enough) political capital to get his agenda passed. A card that says he is popular enough with the Congress to get passed the particular agenda item that you have articulated in your impact evidence would be a killer card, but you may not always have one that is specific. I’ll talk about impact uniqueness when I get to the impact discussion.

When you are cutting uniqueness evidence, you need to cut cards that vary in quality. You will, for example, want evidence saying that Biden is “very popular” and that he is just “pretty popular” or “somewhat popular.” You will also want evidence that says that the agenda item that is your impact story will “definitely pass,” “most likely pass,” and “probably pass.” The reason you want uniqueness evidence that varies in quality is because you will want to choose particular uniqueness cards depending on the strength of your link. For example, if you have some really good evidence that says that there is massive Congressional and public opposition to the plan, then you will probably want to argue that the disadvantage is very unique — Biden is very strong now, and the agenda item you are claiming as your impact will definitely be passed in the status quo. This makes it very difficult for the negative to win link turns to the disadvantage. Even if the affirmative successfully link-turns the disadvantage by arguing that the Congress and the public like the plan, there is no benefit to voting for the link turn because the agenda item impact will pass in the status quo. There is no advantage to making Biden more popular or building a stronger base of political capital. If, however, the negative originally argued that the disadvantage was brinkish — the agenda item might or might not pass, that Biden was in a politically precarious position, — then the Biden link turns would be something to vote for because they would take us off of the brink of a dangerous precipice.

Winning the Internal Link

The third thing that you need to do to win a Biden disadvantage, like any disadvantage, is to win the internal link. Internal link evidence makes the connection between the link and the impact evidence. To win the Biden Disadvantage, there are a number of internal links that you need to win.

One, you need to win that Biden either supports the plan or that he is tagged with it (that people think he did it). To win the Congressional backlash link you need to win that Biden pushes the plan through Congress. You can do this by arguing that it is most likely Biden who proposes it because Congress hates it, that most agenda items are initiated by the President (normal means), or you may even be able to get them to admit to it in the c-x if they are bad Biden debaters. To win the link that the plan is unpopular with the public, you do not need to win that Biden is the one who proposes the plan. Since all bills must eventually get signed into law by the President, he arguably must eventually approve the plan. So, the public will blame him for signing it — he could have vetoed it. Also, there is some evidence that says that the public will think that Biden is responsible for the plan regardless of whether or not he implements the plan because he is the leader of the United States and the public oversimplifies the political process.

Some teams read the evidence that Biden will be blamed even when running the political capital story. This is pretty silly since people in Congress are likely to know who pushed the policy and will not blame the President if he really didn’t push it.

Two, you need to win that there is a relationship between the amount of political capital that the President has and the likelihood that he will get his agenda through the Congress. There is actually a large amount of theoretical evidence written by political science scholars that debates out this internal link.

There are some particular cards that you need to look for when reading — the relationship between popularity and agenda passage and the relationship between political bargaining and agenda passage. There are some good cards that say that popularity is critical to a president’s agenda, that popularity is irrelevant, that high popularity hurts a president (because Congress doesn’t want him to get more popular by approving a subsequent agenda item), that political bargaining is useful, that political bargaining is irrelevant, and that a President needs constantly to spend political capital in order to gain more (he can’t hoard it for an upcoming battle, and that if Biden wins a political battle with Congress, he instantaneously acquires more political capital (“Winners-Win”).

Three, you need to win that the President needs political capital to get his agenda passed. Check out this example card. It says that Biden needs political capital to get Congressional support to get his policies passed.




If you have a good card that says political capital is critical to a particular agenda item, it will help you dismiss broad affirmative evidence that claims that political capital is irrelevant to passage of an agenda item. It is probably the case that political capital helps with the passage of some agenda items, such as tax cut, but not other items. If there is broad congressional support or opposition to a particular policy, political capital probably won’t help too much.

Four, to win the internal link to the disadvantage you need to win that the plan will be passed the moment the judge signs the ballot. Some affirmatives will argue that their plan doesn’t get passed when the judge signs the ballot, only that it gets set at the bottom of the docket and passed after other agenda items are dealt with. There are a number of answers to this argument. One, you should argue that this argument is unfair because it prevents debate over the political implications of the plan. If the plan is simply placed at the bottom of the docket, the negative can never debate the political implications of the plan because you wouldn’t have any idea when the plan would be brought to the floor. The plan will have political implications, and simply placing the plan at the bottom of the docket allows the affirmative to bracket those questions, as if the plan is passed in some type of fantasy world. Two, political debates are important. Political debates provide the negative with important ground, as oftentimes the only reason that policies aren’t passed in the real world is connected to political reasons. Political debates are also educational, as they encourage debaters to read the news wires and stay on top of current events. Allowing the affirmative simply to place the plan at the bottom of the docket permits the affirmative to displace these educational debates. Three, placing the plan at the bottom of the docket is disadvantageous. Another, even more important agenda item, may not make it because the plan gets debated when it is (when they argue that we have no idea what the agenda items are then this will prove your unfairness argument). Four, placing the plan at the bottom of the docket doesn’t overcome presumption. If the plan is placed at the bottom of the docket it will probably never get passed. How many agenda items are introduced every year? Thousands. Very few get passed. If the plan is at the bottom then it will never get passed. Five, it is not normal means. New agenda items never get put at the bottom of the docket. People would want to get them passed now. The idea of placing the plan at the bottom of the agenda is an absurd debate construct. Six, the plan is at least announced now. Even if the plan isn’t passed now, it at least has to be announced now (we’re debating about it, right?). The very announcement of the plan will likely cause a political firestorm now. Hopefully that is sufficient. I hate that argument!

Now that you have these three types of internal link evidence, you need to find an agenda item: an impact. Which agenda item should you choose? There are a couple of things that you should keep in mind when choosing an impact. One, the impact should be big — a nuclear war! Why not? After all, you get to pick the impact. Two, the agenda item should be something that is going to be debated in Congress around the time that you are going to be debating. This way you will always be able to have great uniqueness and/or brink cards.

A sample disadvantage is available here.

Debating Traditional Political Capital Disadvantages

Although additional advice follows in the essays on the specific speeches, I want to make some general suggestions for debating the Biden disadvantage on both the affirmative and the negative.

One, pay close attention to the relationship between the uniqueness and the link evidence. I have already discussed it some but I want to make a couple of additional points. It is best when reading the shell and answering cross-examination questions to argue only that the agenda item will pass in the status quo. Do not say by how wide a margin the agenda item will pass. If you have weak links and the 2AC doesn’t read any link turns that you can’t beat, you can read some cards that say while the agenda item is likely to pass the vote will be very close. If, however, the affirmative reads a bunch of link turns that say the plan has massive political support and you can’t answer them, you can read some cards that say the agenda item will pass by a large margin. If it will pass by a large margin in the status quo, then there is no advantage to voting for the link turns. What you need to be careful of on the negative is reading uniqueness cards that are too good and then reading link cards that are bad. If Biden is massively popular and has tons of political capital what difference will a small, little link make? Arguably no difference at all.

Two, try to keep the Congressional opposition and public approval link stories separate, and don’t stake out a clear position on what your link is in the 1NC. That way, if the affirmative link turns with cards that say their plan is politically popular with the public, you can read internal link take-outs that say popularity is irrelevant to agenda passage and that only political bargaining with the Congress matters. The Congress still hates the plan. It doesn’t matter if you can’t answer the specific affirmative link turns because you can win that high popularity won’t increase the chances for agenda passage. You may even want to read cards that say popularity generates more opposition in the Congress. This way, their link turns become your links.

Three, extend the disadvantage in the 1NR, particularly if your DA is a little shaky. The Biden disadvantage is one great big story. If you extend it in the 1NR, no one can CX you to pick at the story and highlight where your cards are missing. This is generally good advice for extending any weak argument that you need to win, but it is particularly useful for Biden

Four, do a lot of risk assessment. Political Capital is definitely a multiple step disadvantage. Breakdowns could occur at any of the link, internal, link and impact levels. Argue, however, that the disadvantage impact is huge and that even a 5-15% chance of a nuclear war is a huge risk to be avoided.

Five, you need to be prepared in advance to deal with link turns you didn’t anticipate. Surveys can always be designed to show public support for a policy that is probably unpopular, so there is no way you can anticipate every link turn. There are a number of general strategies that you can use, however, to deal with what you did not anticipate. One, if you can win uniqueness you can argue that there is only an impact associated with the link. It would be silly to risk the link’s impact when there is no advantage in voting for the turns. Second, if you separated the congressional bargaining and the public popularity links as I just suggested, you can use the popularity link turns as links.

Six, when you are affirmative, make the negative read all of the link evidence that they need to win the disadvantage. Many teams these days don’t even read internal link evidence anymore. They just assume that Biden is tagged with the plan (or that he pushes it), that capital is critical to agenda passage, that it is critical to the impact agenda, etc. While the negative may be able to win these arguments, make them win by reading cards to prove their arguments. At the very least, you will have a large time tradeoff, because in the 2AC you can just point out what is missing and the negative will have to read cards to fill in the holes in the block.

Also, you need to debate the internal link. This is probably the least debated part of the disadvantage. The process of passing policies is a lot more complicated than simply obtaining political capital and then pushing an agenda. Political capital may affect the likelihood of policy passage, but it is only one of many variables.

Mason explains the complicated process that passing a piece of legislation is and identifies many of the other significant variables that impact on the likelihood of policy passage. Other factors that affect the likelihood that a particular piece of legislation will get passed include:


–           Is the legislation itself supported?

–           Is funding available?

–           How will the legislation be funded and whose program may it cut as a result?

–           Has a campaign of public support been launched?

–           At what point in the calendar year is the legislation introduced?