Hours after shutting down the GOP filibuster (68-29) on the conservative "hard" infrastructure bill that the media insists on calling "bipartisan"-- because self-appointed conservatives of both parties negotiated it-- Senate Dems released the full plan for the "soft" infrastructure bill that not a single Republican will vote for and that can only be passed if all 50 Democrats-- including conservatives Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin and Maggie Hassan-- vote for it. (Or you can fantasize that Sinema votes no and Biden makes a deal with Lisa Murkowski to vote yes... but let's avoid the fantasies for the sake of this post.)
The soft infrastructure bill-- basically, the budget reconciliation bill-- is so awesome that if passed the way it's written and intended to be filled in, it will give the Democrats massive midterm victories and guarantee a revered place in history for the schlemiel in the White House. Why? It invests in the American working class the way the GOP, when they have power, invests in the top 1% of Americans. This morning Ted Lieu (D-CA) seemed as enthusiastic about the plan as I am. He told me he's "pleased that Senate Democrats are proceeding with a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. From elder care to education to climate change to healthcare, we need robust investments to tackle the great challenges facing all of us. I look forward to working with the Senate and House leadership to craft the legislation.” This is what it includes:
Expansions of paid family and medical leave
A buildup of child-care programs
Extensions of household tax credits, including the enhanced child tax credit implemented during the pandemic
An expansion of Medicare benefits to include dental, vision and hearing, and a reduction in the Medicare eligibility age
An extension of increased Affordable Care Act subsidies
Tuition-free community college
Tax incentives and grants to encourage adoption of green energy, manufacturing and transportation
Polluter fees on methane and carbon
Consumer rebates to encourage clean energy and weatherization in homes
Funding to increase the number of electric vehicles in the federal fleet
Sounds kind of like a version of Bernie's election platform, right? It is. Will conservative Democrats-- remember, not a single Republican vote is needed for reconciliation-- allow it to pass? It's a $3.5 trillion budget and both Manchin and Sinema have said they "need" to whittle it down considerably. I'm guessing that Bernie has made a little room for them to do so.
As Al Fram explained to Associated Press affiliates. "The measure lays the groundwork for separate legislation later this year that over a decade would pour mountains of federal resources into Democrats’ top priorities. Included would be more money for health care, education, family services and environmental programs and tax breaks for families, with much of it paid for with tax increases on the rich and corporations. While Democratic leaders’ have asserted that the measure will be fully paid for, the budget does not require that. The Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, which control tax legislation, have been given flexibility to raise as much money as they want to offset the bill’s costs, and a memorandum summarizing the budget says those savings will be 'substantial.'" That's the problem for the conservatives; they oppose even modest increases of taxes on corporate profits and on the very wealthiest American oligarchal families. The proposals are very popular with American voters and but not so much with those wealthiest of American oligarchal families, the ones who bribe senators. Maybe Manchin should consider this poll of West Virginia voters:
The resolution calls for creating free pre-Kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds and two years of free community college, extending tax breaks for children and some low-income workers, and establishing paid family and sick leave.
Medicare coverage would be expanded to cover dental, hearing and vision benefits, and the program’s eligibility age would be lowered from its current 65. There would be an extension of federal subsidies for people buying health insurance through former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law and money for states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid coverage.
Spending would also increase for housing, home health care and job training, and new resources would go to efforts encouraging a faster transition to clean energy.
To pay for the plans, taxes would be raised on wealthy people and large corporations, without any increases on people earning under $400,000 a year, a key Biden campaign pledge. The budget also calls for reducing the prices the federal government pays for pharmaceuticals it buys for Medicare recipients, a long-time goal of Democrats who want the government to be allowed to negotiate those prices. Savings would also come from strengthening IRS enforcement so it can collect more unpaid taxes.
The budget also calls for giving legal status to millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and-- in a step aimed at winning support from moderate Democrats-- spending money to strengthen border security. But that language will have to be approved by the Senate parliamentarian, who enforces rules that bar provisions that are too policy-driven and not primarily related to the budget.
...“For too many decades, Congress has ignored the needs of the working class, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “Now is the time for bold action. Now is the time to restore faith in ordinary Americans that their government can work for them, and not just wealthy campaign contributors.”
Even so, it’s expected to take Democrats well into the fall to complete the follow-up $3.5 trillion bill, as rival progressives and moderates jostle over which of their priorities will survive.
The budget resolution assigns congressional committees specific amounts of money to spend and describes policy changes that party leaders support in the follow-up bill actually enacting those changes. But those committees will have final say on what legislation they will produce, and crafting this fall’s Democratic compromise with virtually no margin of error will be a time-consuming challenge for party leaders.
Senate debate on the budget resolution will begin as soon as the chamber approves a bipartisan $1 trillion package financing highway, water, broadband and other infrastructure projects, which is expected soon.
Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) told me this morning that her "hope is that climate action was included in the BIF in a stronger way than was projected out last month. I believe it will be. This plan is a good start for more to come." The Blue-America-endorsed candidate in northwest Washington, Jason Call, is also concerned about how the need for Climate Change amelioration is being handled in the bill. Noting that today's IPCC report said that "Major climate changes are inevitable and irreversible" with fast-rising temperatures bringing "widespread extreme weather" that is "already affecting every corner of the planet," he is insistent that the U.S. get off its duff. "We needed our federal government to take assertive action years ago, but for too long our politicians have sold out to the biggest polluters-- even subsidizing the operations of these private, for-profit companies with public funds. The good news is that more of our representatives and members of the administration are waking up to the need to act urgently. The bad news is they’re losing that battle in the name of 'bipartisanship.'" He asked his supporters to take a look at what became of the infrastructure bill crawling its way through the Senate right now.
In the original proposal, the Biden administration-- to its credit-- allocated $1.26 TRILLION to infrastructure projects meant to address the climate crisis. Not nearly enough, but still the most serious proposal on climate action we'd ever seen from a U.S. president.
But by the time Manchin, Sinema, and all the Republicans got through whittling it down, a mere $320 billion over the next 5 years for climate infrastructure remained.
To put it in perspective, that’s only $64B annually, less than one-tenth the annual budget for the U.S. military-- which is also one of the biggest polluters in the world.
Let me be blunt: When the Republicans want to pass tax cuts for the rich, they don’t care if Democrats object, and they don’t try to find a middle ground. So why are we compromising with Republicans and conservative Democrats on something as serious as sustaining life on this planet?
Don’t be fooled by fairy tales of bipartisanship. While I believe every lawmaker has an obligation to build consensus and work together, there are some things that are too important to compromise, and this is one of them.
Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, bandits time we start acting like it.
Erica Smith is the progressive candidate for the open North Carolina Senate seat. "This reconciliation package," she just told me, "would be the most consequential piece of legislation of my lifetime. It will lift up and tangibly improve the lives of the poor, the working poor, and the barely middle class. From the climate crisis to our broken healthcare system, to our rigged economy, it takes on the defining challenges of our time with bold ideas and policies that will transform people's lives. Thank you to the activists and the organizers who have worked to make this a possibility and to the members of congress who are rising up and meeting this moment with this outstanding proposal. Now, we need Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to vote like Democrats and support this bill. Let's get it done!"
Alan Grayson was still reading the plan when I asked him how he felt about the direction that bill is heading. He told me "There are parts of it that I’m extremely happy to see, like my push to have Medicare cover eyes, ears and teeth, and the $3,600 per year refundable tax credit (reversing Clinton’s termination of AFDC). There are, however, three ways to make it a lot better:
Don’t rely on the states at all. The red states screwed up Medicaid expansion for ten years now, and now they’ve screwed up rent relief.
No two-year programs; all of these should be authorized permanently. Two-year programs are simply hostages for the GOP to take.
Nothing should be 'recommended'-- either do it or don’t do it.
This reflects the accurate sense on the part of the Democratic Leadership that they either have to 'go big' or they will lose badly next year. There is no alternative."
This video of Bernie's speech introducing the bill this morning is worth watching-- all 30 minutes of it. It tells you everything you need to know about why this reconciliation bill needs to be passed.