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Are Democrats Slitting Their Own Throats By Whittling Down Build Back Better?


"Compromise" by Nancy Ohanian


Do you feel let down by the Democrats' shrinking socio-economic agenda? If you do, you're not alone. According to Nate Cohn's analysis of recent polling data, voters are taking it out on Biden in a big way. His approval ratings have declined on nearly every issue and among nearly every demographic group, including among Democratic demographic groups who feel let down. "The polls, wrote Cohn, "seem to depict a pessimistic and even hopeless electorate... Biden’s apparent weakness among young, Latino and Black voters has been alarming... [The passage of the president’s infrastructure and spending bills could be a first step toward regaining his political footing. A positive accomplishment might begin to restore some of the confidence that Biden lost during the tumultuous Afghanistan withdraw. And the bills, which attempt to fulfill a long list of progressive policy priorities, might be well-suited to the task of luring back Democratic-leaning voters who have soured on his presidency."


Really? People who were looking for something actually transformative may not be eager to reward the Democrats for a far from transformative bill that is being allowed by status quo-loving Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, now thoroughly hated figures among Democratic voters. Michael Shear noted this morning that the sense of disappointment among Democrats is palpable. Many-- especially those who voted for him as the lesser of two evils but who took the Democrats' campaign promises seriously, are pissed off.


A $6 trillion dollar project to raise up the working class has shrunk into a stingier and less ambitious plan that shatters many dreams and leaves many voters with a sense of hopelessness. "It won’t make him the one who finally secured free community college for everyone," noted Shear. "Seniors won’t get free dental, hearing and vision coverage from Medicare. And there won’t be a new system of penalties for the worst polluters."


Biden is trying to embrace Manchin's and Sinema's slash and burn version of his once expansive agenda as a win, but will voters? "By spending the last several months pushing for an even larger and more ambitious agenda, knowing that he would most likely have to pare it back, Biden has let down some supporters who believed he could deliver on his soaring rhetoric about the need for better higher education, expanded Medicare services and bold advances in the fight against climate change."


Manchin: "You want progressive policies? Elect more progressives"

Led by Bernie in the Senate, by Pramila in the House and by a bevy of determined grassroots congressional candidates like Erica Smith (NC), Jason Call (WA), Julie Oliver (TX), Mike Ortega (CA), Lucas Kunce (MO)..., progressives are still fighting for the priorities voters have indicated they want the government to pass. Will voters take it out on Democrats across the board or focus their disappointment on conservatives who undermined the proposal? Neither Manchin nor Sinema will be on the ballot next year. Unsupportive House members who worked to shrink the bill will be and may be in danger, especially Blue Dogs-- most of them dripping with the same kind of corruption as Manchin and Sinema. Josh Gottheimer (NY), Ed Case (HI), Kurt Schrader (OR), Stephanie Murphy (FL), Henry Cuellar (TX), Lou Correa (CA), Jim Costa (CA), Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA) and Jared Golden (ME) have gone out of their way to paint targets on their own backs, as have New Dems Scott Peters (CA) and Kathleen Rice (NY). Some-- Case, Schrader, Cuellar, Correa-- already have strong primary opponents. Others will be wiped out by Republicans next November. Golden, Murphy and Bourdeaux are finished.

In order to make real progress, you have to inspire people about the importance of the work,” said Doug Elmendorf, the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and the former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “And then any compromise is a disappointment.”
Once the spending bills are behind him, Mr. Biden still faces challenges that are not so easily solved by compromise. On Thursday, he appeared to acknowledge that reality by hinting that he was open to altering the Senate’s longstanding filibuster rules if that is what it takes to break through Republican opposition to protecting voting rights and passing other parts of the Democratic agenda.
“We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” he told the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
That is a dramatic concession for a politician like Mr. Biden, who embraced the often arcane rules of the Senate during the three decades he served there. Like other institutionalists in the chamber, Mr. Biden has resisted demands from liberal activists to shatter those rules, fearful of the consequences the next time Republicans are in charge.
But the Washington that Mr. Biden often reminisces about-- the one in which Democrats and Republicans work together toward common goals-- is largely a distant memory. If he wants to make progress on voting rights, climate change, prison reform, an immigration overhaul and more, he most likely won’t be able to lean on the same instincts that have animated most of his political life and defined the brand that helped him win the White House.
...Just this week, Republicans used the filibuster to block an already watered-down Democratic voting rights bill for the third time since Mr. Biden took office. The takeaway? If Democrats want federal legislation to stop what they view as an assault on voting in Republican-controlled states, they will need to play hardball.
That very likely means persuading all 50 Democrats and independents in the chamber to vote for changing the filibuster rule-- if he can.
“President Biden and Senate Democrats need to fulfill campaign promises and defend our democracy-- there’s too much at stake,” leaders of Fix Our Senate, a group that favors eliminating the filibuster, said in a statement on Friday. “After three Republican filibusters of common sense voter protection laws, it’s time to end the filibuster and protect the right to vote for all Americans.”

Very true... but cheaper drugs, dental, vision and hearing care, a minimum wage increase, tuition-free community college, paid family leave, fair taxation and climate amelioration would have meant a lot more to most Americans. "[T]he biggest promise Biden made during the campaign was to be the president who would finally confront the environmental dangers facing the planet," wrote Shear. "On Thursday, he put it in the bluntest possible terms: 'The existential threat to humanity is climate change.' Biden and his party are likely to face that threat alone in the coming months and years. Most Republicans have shown little appetite for aggressive action to counter the environmental damage from cars, manufacturing and other economic activities. And even within his own party, the president faces divisions that make it difficult to convince the rest of the world that the United States is serious about reducing the emissions that are causing global warming."

Shear is correct when he writes that "enthusiasm among core Democratic voters is critical to defeating the Republican Party in the midterm elections of 2022 (and perhaps Trump, its leader, two years later). If crucial parts of the president’s coalition remain unhappy because they are disappointed in the compromise bill, that could threaten Democratic hopes to remain in power in Congress and the White House. 'The political costs of this will be large,' Elmendorf said. [John] Podesta, who advised Hillary Clinton during her runs for the presidency, agreed. He said it’s a 'big problem' if Democrats can’t deliver on the fundamental promises. 'Particularly younger voters,' he said. 'You are seeing it among independents, African American and Latino voters. They are just feeling like these guys are not delivering.'"


The way the Associated Press described the pathetic remnants of the bill-- the Build Back Less Better Act-- this morning was like this:


Biden has faced resistance from key holdouts, in particular Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ),who has not been on board with her party’s plan to undo President Donald Trump’s tax breaks for big corporations and individuals earning more than $400,000 a year.
The president was unusually forthcoming Thursday night about the sticking points in the negotiations with Sinema and another Democrat, conservative Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
While the president said Sinema opposed raising “a single penny in taxes” on the wealthy or corporations, a White House official later clarified that the president was referring to raising the top tax rates, not the range of tax proposals “which Sen. Sinema supports.”
If so, that could unlock a key piece of a deal. With a better understanding of the revenues available, Democrats can then develop a topline amount of spending for the package, and adjust the duration and sums for various programs accordingly.
Biden said Manchin doesn’t want to “rush” the transition to clean energy so quickly it will result in major job losses in his coal-producing state.
Even still, Biden acknowledged major reductions to his original vision.
He signaled the final plan would no longer provide free community college, but said he hoped to increase Pell Grants to compensate for the loss of the policy.
He also said that what had been envisioned as a federally paid, months-long family leave program would be just four weeks.
Another work in progress-- the idea of expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors, is a priority for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent of Vermont.
Biden said he likes the idea, but with Manchin and Sinema objecting, the proposal is “a reach.”
Instead, Democrats, he said are considering offering seniors an $800 voucher to access dental care as well as another program for hearing aids that Sinema may support. However, the vision care component, Biden said, has been harder to resolve and there is no consensus yet.
Overall, Biden and his party are trying to shore up middle-class households, tackle climate change and have the most wealthy Americans and corporations pay what he calls their “fair share” for the nation.
In the mix are at least $500 billion in clean energy tax credits and other efforts to battle climate change, $350 billion for child care subsidies and free prekindergarten, an extension of the $300 monthly child tax credit put in place during the COVID-19 crisis, and money for health care provided through the Affordable Care Act.
The newly proposed tax provisions, though, have rankled Democrats who have long campaigned on scrapping the Republican-backed tax cuts that many believe unduly reward the wealthy and cost the government untold sums in lost revenue at a time of gaping income inequality. Many are furious that perhaps a lone senator could stymie that goal.
Under the changes being floated the 21% corporate rate would not change, nor would the top individual rate of 39.6% on those earning $400,000, or $450,000 for couples.
However, the White House is reviving the idea of a corporate minimum tax rate that would hit even companies that say they had no taxable income-- a frequent target of Biden, who complains they pay “zero” in taxes.
The new tax on the wealthiest individuals would be modeled on legislation from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He has proposed taxing stock gains of people with more than $1 billion in assets-- fewer than 1,000 Americans.

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