Alan Zendell, October 28, 2021
Presidential candidates spend every year divisible by four making promises. They argue about them at town halls and during televised debates. They attack each other’s ideas, nitpick the details, and vie for voters’ support for their programs. But they never address the most important aspect of presidential promises – they’re worthless. The idea of a president keeping or breaking promises made on the campaign trail is nonsense. They can propose and campaign all they want, but only Congress can pass laws.
President Biden proposed five key legislative initiatives. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill which provided direct payments to individuals and families was signed into law in March. Democrats attempted to pass it with bipartisan support, but not a single Republican voted for it, although it has been shown to be an essential stimulus to our recovering economy. That was the beginning of the Republican campaign to stifle Biden’s legislative agenda, which they hope voters will see as Democrats’ failure to govern. Frustrating the Biden administration is the only point on which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Trump agree, but it’s been enough to imperil every other legislative proposal on the table.
Biden’s other four initiatives – voting rights, infrastructure, “building back better,” and addressing climate change – are all currently stalled in Congress, though some of the most important climate change proposals may be included in the building back better bill currently being negotiated. The irony in those negotiations, however, is that Republican obstruction isn’t the only thing preventive passage. Democrats have known since Mitch McConnell announced he would fight Biden at every turn that they would have to pass those bills on their own. They have the votes in both the House and Senate, albeit with razor-thin margins, but to succeed they must first resolve their internal differences.
Those differences are embodied by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on the extreme left and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema, who represent fiscally conservative Democrats. The Sanders faction wanted a $3.5 trillion build back better bill, which despite its brilliant alliteration wasn’t going to pass muster with “Moderates.” Manchin has worked hard to force a compromise, refusing to consider more than $1.5 trillion in new spending. He and Sinema have killed proposals for free community college, most Mediaid expansion, a big chunk of the proposed Medicare expansion, paid family leave, and to reverse the Trump tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.
What appears to remain in the bill, which the administration now estimates will cost $1.75 trillion, was revealed to the media yesterday. Here’s the way The Washington Post summarized it:
• Extension of federal subsidies to assist seven million low-income Americans to purchase health insurance
• Addition to Medicare of hearing and home health care benefits for older Americans
• Universal free pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds
• Financial assistance to families earning less than $300,000 per year for child care and an extension of the expanded child care credits in the COVID relief bill
• Increases in Pell grants for low income student paying for higher education
• Tax breaks for the installation of solar panels, other measures that increases energy efficiency in buildings, and purchasing electric vehicles
• A 15% minimum tax on large corporations and a tax on stock buy-backs
• An income tax surcharge of 5% on incomes over $10 million and 8% on incomes over $25 million (an 8% surcharge would increase the current maximum tax rate of 35% to 37.8%)
• Empowering the IRS to crack down on tax cheaters, especially among the very wealthy
Democrats brag about the diversity of their big tent, but it only works when its occupants don’t lose sight of their priorities. Here’s the deal, as Joe Biden might say: Democrats can either act like the adults in the room and resolve their differences to give the American people some things that they desperately need, or they can fail and convince voters that they’re not fit to govern. Failure to use reconciliation, amend the filibuster, and agree on the provisions of the build back better and voting rights bills will turn Congress over to Trump-dominated Republicans for at least the remainder of this decade.
It’s up to Bernie Sanders to demonstrate that compromising on his Progressive agenda is more important than exacting revenge against those who have opposed it for forty years. It’s up to Joe Manchin to prove that he wants these bills passed more than he fears Trump voters in West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema to clean up her own murky agenda and clearly outline what she stands for.
Democrats – get your damn act together or concede that you’re unable to govern. The alternative is to turn the country over to the far right and continue to concentrate all of our wealth in the hands of white billionaires.