Why can’t the Democrats agree on a bill that will bring needed social benefits to the American public?
President Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative has stalled. The sizable and influential progressive wing of the Democratic Party is holding strong on their convictions – fair enough. However, the nation is losing patience and, perhaps worse, losing confidence.
What is Reconciliation?
The House of Representatives and the Senate must pass identical versions of all bills. For a bill to pass in the House, it needs a simple majority – a 51% vote. However, thanks to the tradition of the filibuster – something NOT included in the Constitution – nothing can be approved in the Senate without at least 60 votes, or 60% approval. There is one exception, when it comes to budgetary issues, 51 votes are acceptable in the Senate or else in a 50/50 divided Senate (like the current one) nothing could get done. This is called Reconciliation and generally it is only allowed once a year and has most recently been used to pass Trump’s tax cuts in 2017 and approve Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for COVID-19 relief. In an example of the Byzantine-style antics that dictate the rules of our legislative bodies, after the Senate has approved the budget, the House can edit the original terms and pass it back to the Senate who – thanks to Reconciliation – can pass the amended bill with a simple majority of 51 votes.
President Biden’s Build Back Better Package Is At The Heart Of The Current Reconciliation Situation
Bill 1: The American Jobs Plan (AJP) = Hard Infrastructure
On August 10, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Bill to fund hard infrastructure with 69 votes (50 Democratic and 19 Republican). This bill is desperately needed. Our roads, bridges, airports, railways, harbors, and energy grid are in deplorable condition. The situation is at the point of a national emergency, and with record-low interest rates, there is no better time to overhaul our national infrastructure. However, this bill has stalled in the House.
What the hell is going on?
The Democrats are refusing to hold the vote to pass the Hard Infrastructure Bill until they are confident that a parallel bill that expands social programs – President Biden’s American Families Plan (AFP) – will also pass through the Senate as a reconciliation bill with only 50 Democratic votes and Vice President Harris’s tie breaker vote. However, only 48 of the 50 Democratic Senators are on board; Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona will not support the Bill with its current price tag.
Bill 2: The American Families Plan (AFP) = Soft Infrastructure/Social Policy
While Bill Number 1 is about public works, Bill Number 2 (the Reconciliation one) is about human infrastructure and clean energy. It is a 10-year spending plan to improve health, education, childcare, and the climate crisis at the proposed cost of $3.5 trillion. The big issue is obviously the high cost. The Democrats insist that by appropriately taxing individuals who earn over $400,000 a year and collecting taxes on corporations who have been dodging their obligations for decades, $2.9 trillion of the costs of the program will be covered. Senator Manchin will accept a Reconciliation package of $1.5 trillion; Senator Sinema will not commit or even comment on what she will accept.
The Senate has passed the hard infrastructure bill. The House with a slight Democratic majority will pass the hard infrastructure bill (#1) after they pass the soft infrastructure bill (#2). But, they won’t pass the soft infrastructure bill until they are confident that it will also pass in the Senate via the Reconciliation provision, which means cooperation from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
The Problem with Manchin and Sinema
Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are Not true Democrats, they are DINOs (Democrats In Name Only ). They are dinosaurs: like Dino the pet on the Flintstones cartoon. We have a standoff between the Progressive Squad and the DINO Pod. So now, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is playing a waiting game with no end in sight.
Compromise Options: Trim or Trash
The choices are simple either trim back the costs of all programs or trash some programs entirely. Some high-ranking Democrats fear that by partially funding the entire platform, a future Republican administration will dump the entire project in an effort to diminish Biden’s legacy. WAKE-UP CALL: if the Republicans return to office, they will dump all of Biden’s and the Democrats’ initiatives any way.
The Best Solution
The Democrats must trim back the $3.5 trillion Reconciliation Bill to $1.5 trillion and fund the full program for the next three years. They need to demonstrate to the American people the benefits of early childhood education, free community college for two years, and vision and dental care for Medicare recipients. Democrats must base the 2024 election on the benefits of Biden’s American Families Plan by alerting them that if they want their new lives to continue they must vote Democrat. To vote Republican will result in the return of the old system that ignored the plight of struggling Americans in order to enrich the 1%. Once Democrats secure their dominance in the House and Senate, they can increase funding for the American Families Plan to support our great nation’s human infrastructure by adequately funding the social programs delineated in the Reconciliation Bill.
What About the Rest of the Budget
For those who are curious, according to whitehouse.gov, the fiscal budget for 2022 is $6.011 trillion. This projects a national income of $4.174 trillion, which leaves a deficit of $1.837 trillion. The mandatory spending portion of the budget – basically entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) – amounts to about $4 trillion, and military spending exceeds $700 billion. In reality, at this point we are effectively dealing with made-up Monopoly money. There is nothing to back up the real value of these amounts. They are merely just universally agreed upon imaginary markers.
Losing Is Not An Option
In the morass over the Reconciliation dilemma, it is critical that progressive Democrats hold the high ground. They must immediately pass the American Jobs Plan/Hard Infrastructure Bill and compromise on the American Families Plan/Social Policy (Reconciliation) Bill. Compromise should not be seen as a loss, but rather as an investment in the future of our democracy and in the faith that progressive policies are the key to the perpetuation of American greatness.