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Build Back Less Better?

Updated: Oct 13


Voters delivered for Biden and the Democrats last year. Now it's their turn to deliver for America

This morning the Punchbowl News crew noted that "House Democrats say they want to pass the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill by the end of the month. In order to do that, they need a deal with the Senate Democrats on a 'topline' for reconciliation. We’re almost halfway into this month and they don’t have that agreement. We’re skeptical that Democratic congressional leaders and the White House get all of this done by the end of the month, although it’s not impossible." OK, I'll take the bait. How is it possible?


They assert that "Pelosi has begun to address how she’ll handle some of the vexing decisions she will have to make in the coming days about the shape of the reconciliation bill. In a letter to Democrats Monday night, Pelosi said this:


Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children!

She also told her colleagues she asked the Pope to pray for them. Maybe that will work. But Punchbowl has some other ideas defining the moment as "having to shrink their reconciliation package from $3.5 trillion to the roughly $2 trillion level: more programs for less money, meaning shorter duration; fewer programs for more money; or just a mix and mash of both. Pelosi here is coming down in favor of the 'do fewer things well' argument, which means there will be programs on the cutting room floor."


Ready for some wrenchingly bad news, if it's true? House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth, who announced he's retiring at the end of his term today, is a member of the progressive caucus and a lifelong progressive. He "has already suggested not including expanding Medicare programs for dental, hearing and vision, arguing they’re very costly. Yarmuth and other Democrats also point out that the dental program wouldn’t phase in until 2028, and it has inspired big opposition from the American Dental Association and other dentist groups. Yarmuth has argued to put the dental program in a reconciliation package next year. That is possible, of course, but realistically this is the time for big package. Everything will be more difficult next year."


Punchbowl also, points out that dropping Medicare expansion-- and God knows what else (certainly lower drug prices and lowering the costs of drugs, two things Sinema and Manchin will never agree to) will "aggravate" Bernie. Punchbowl reported they "expect some big pushback." I think that pushback will come from others besides Bernie. Katie Porter (D-CA), who is both a Frontliner in a purple seat and the Deputy Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, embodies the dual opposition that such cuts will face. Porter led the fight to make child care in Build Back Better into a universal program, joined in a trio with Frontliner Mikie Sherrill and Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal. Porter also led a letter of 15 Frontliners to Pelosi and Schumer earlier this month pushing to expand the age of Medicare; the signers were a mix of Blue Dogs, New Dems, and Progressives. As Porter says, "every kind of Democrat should want a strong, stable economy that creates opportunity for all and leaves nobody behind. That means that the top priorities of taking climate action, investing in child care, reducing prescription drug prices, and expanding Medicare share supporters among newly elected members from across the Democratic Party."


After the Punchbowl report came out this morning, Manu Raju asked Pelosi if the Dems would be dropping any of the key pillars of the Build Back Better Act to reduce price tag-- universal pre-K, child tax credit, tuition free community college, paid family leave, Medicare expansion-- and "she suggests they will instead look at paring back the number of years."


Alan Grayson, the progressive former congressman from Orlando, currently running for Rubio's Senate seat, told me that what most current progressive members are telling me, namely that "If 'top-line' cuts in the dollar amount is what’s required, the best option is to take the 10-year bill and make it into a 5-year bill. The second-best option is to 'front-load' everything that people actually will see, i.e., earned benefits like child support and Medicare expansion, having them go into effect immediately, while 'phasing in' everything else. The third-best option is to cut the things that people won’t actually see, like utilities phasing in alternative energy, as important as some of these things may be. The fourth-best option, at least according to Speaker Pelosi, is prayer. By the way, the bill badly needs: (a) for people to know what’s in it, since almost nobody does; (b) a better name, like the Everyone is Young and Old, Sooner or Later Act; and (c) an annual cost, not a cost by decade, since the annual cost ($350B) is less than half of the military budget.


And right on cue, the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a twitter thread once again delineating what the Republicans-- with the backing of tiny fringe of grotesquely corrupt Democrats like Manchin, Sinema, Gottheimer and Schrader:

  • Home-based care for seniors and people with disabilities

  • Lowering prescription drug costs

  • Two years free community college

  • Universal child care

  • Funding to transition our electric grid to clean energy

  • Permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness

  • Funding to repair crumbling public housing

  • expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing

  • Millions of green jobs, including through a Civilian Climate Corps

  • Paid family and medical leave

  • Extending the child tax credit to address child poverty

  • Roadmap to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, essential workers, and farmworkers

  • Universal Pre-K

  • Ending tax subsidies for Big Oil and Big Gas

  • Funding for communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis

The CPC then added, "And we're going to pay for it all by finally making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share in taxes. These are the urgently needed, long-overdue investments for working families that we're fighting for. It's time to deliver." Indeed it is. It's time for Justice. It's time for the Democratic Party to remind its Republican wing that the Democratic Party is different from the Republican Party because it is the Party of Justice.


Tom Nelson is the Outagamie County Executive running for the Wisconsin Senate seat held by reactionary Republican multimillionaire Ron Johnson. He told me today that "If we can't do something as simple and basic as reigning in pharmaceutical costs or achieving a modest expansion of Medicare, what can we do and what good are we? This is yet another example of why we need to elect more Democrats and more progressives to the US Congress."



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