Why are a few Democrats blocking Biden’s bold recovery agenda?
This is the week that will tell whether Washington will act to address the growing crises that threaten our democracy. Across the country, COVID-19 is spiking once more, as the Delta variant proves ever more contagious.
Floods in the Northeast join flames in the Northwest, as extreme weather caused by climate change takes an ever-greater toll in lives and resources. Our economy has only begun to recover from the COVID-19 recession, and it still does not work for most Americans. Low-income families struggle to find housing; young people are burdened with college debts; parents can’t afford child care; the old find health care ever more unaffordable. Now comes the test. Will a handful of conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives join Republicans in blocking the progress we need? Will they join Republicans in sabotaging the program of the Democratic president? Will they spurn their own leaders in the House and the urging of the vast majority of their caucus? As I write this from my hospital bed, they are still claiming they will block the way. Here’s the back story. The Senate — somewhat miraculously — has passed both a bill to begin rebuilding our infrastructure with bipartisan support, and a budget resolution that would make a real impact on people’s lives in a party-line vote. The former is modest — only $550 billion in new money over 10 years, focused on roads, bridges and water systems. To gain Republican support, it pretends to balance the spending with revenues from accounting tricks, repurposing funds from other purposes and other gambits.
THE U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING. | AP PHOTOS
The latter — the budget resolution — is bolder in vision, providing a child allowance for middle and low income families, major investment in quality day care and pre-K, a serious first step in investments in meet the climate crisis, and major improvements in Medicare to make health care more affordable. The budget resolution bill is also bolder in scope, spending $3.5 trillion over 10 years, balanced by revenues produced by asking the rich and the corporations to pay closer to their fair share in taxes. Not surprisingly, Republicans — who have pledged never to raise taxes on the rich and even oppose empowering the IRS to collect the taxes they already owe — unanimously voted against it. Now the House must pass the budget resolution — again in the face of united Republican opposition. That will then unleash the committees to detail the exact programs, negotiate various compromises, lay out the revenue side and pass a budget to be negotiated with the budget passed by the Senate. With Democrats enjoying only a three-vote margin in the House, that requires House Democrats to unite as Senate Democrats did (and as Republicans do in opposition). Yet, somehow, a handful of conservative Democrats have decided to get in the way. They demand that the House pass the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure bill immediately and say they won’t vote for a budget resolution until it does. Why? They say speed is necessary to pass the infrastructure bill, but that’s just silly. The whole process will be done — if everyone stays on board — by October. They claim the triumph of bipartisanship is the way things should be done. But as the infrastructure bill showed, the only legislation able to gain Republican support will be too modest to make a real difference on climate and will do nothing to address the extreme inequality fostered by our current rigged tax system. The Democratic holdouts also claim they are worried about the “price tag” of the budget resolution — although that bill provides real revenue to balance the spending, while the infrastructure bill fails to do so. No, the only conclusion, other than that they craving media attention, is that these conservatives want less: less help for families, a weaker Medicare program, less action on the climate threat, less investment in kids from pre-K to college. At a time when the crises we face demand bold action, they prefer small. With extreme inequality undermining our economy and democracy, they cater to donors, not voters. At a time when Republican obstruction forces Democratic unity if anything is to move, they prefer division. This week will tell. It is time for conservative Democrats to stop posturing and to start legislating, to stop dividing the party and to start getting with the program. One thing is clear: If they are successful in blocking Biden’s agenda, they will surely lay the groundwork for Republican victories in 2022. If voters see that Democrats can’t unite to get things done, they are likely to look for an alternative.