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After Bipartisan Bill, Progressives Demand Fast Passage of Build Back Better Act

Progressives in and out of Congress say corporate Democrats must “keep their word” and approve the $1.75 trillion bill.

People demonstrate at the U.S. Capitol during the MoveOn and Poor People's Campaign's Build Back Better Action on November 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

As President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure framework into law Monday, progressives both inside and out of Congress called for the swift passage of his social investment and climate policy agenda, demanding that right-wing Democrats “keep their word” and approve the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act to invest in the wellbeing of working-class Americans and the planet.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was passed earlier this month, with six progressive Democrats in the House — including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) — voting against the bill due to objections over the legislative process.

Now that the $1.2 trillion bill has been signed into law, said progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups, Congress must continue pushing Biden’s full agenda forward and pass the Build Back Better Act.

Five centrist Democrats in the House — Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) — pledged to support the Build Back Better Act after receiving the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) cost estimate for the package, which has been drastically cut due to objections from right-wing lawmakers including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The CBO’s analysis of the entire package is now expected on Friday. The White House has said the bill — which includes provisions such as universal free pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, child care subsidies, and tax incentives to enable families to purchase electric vehicles — is fully paid for.

The Stop Deficit Squawks coalition, which includes Indivisible, Tax March Social Security Works, and People’s Action, demanded the Democrats reject the “fear-mongering around an artificial debt crisis” by Republicans and centrists and pass the Build Back Better Act.

“The bipartisan infrastructure package shows us what’s possible when Washington puts real issues and everyday Americans ahead of the deficit squawks’ artificial debt crisis,” said Sarah Baron, campaign director for Tax March. “Now we need Congress to finish the job and quickly pass the Build Back Better Act.”

“Democrats should know by now that deficit squawks represent right wing and corporate special interests, not everyday Americans,” Baron added. “It’s time to push back against their scare tactics and invest in our future.”

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package was recognized by liberal-leaning environmental groups like Environment America as one that will fund “historic investments across the United States,” including $39 billion for public transportation, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, $55 billion to clean up waterways and remove lead pipes and lead from drinking water, and $65 billion to expand broadband internet access.

But, more progressive groups including the Sunrise Movement made clear that in their view, the bipartisan framework “is not a climate bill” and will not convince voters to keep Democrats in power in the midterm elections coming up in less than a year.

“Today, as politicians in D.C. celebrate what they see as a victory, young people, BIPOC, and marginalized communities, who sacrificed so much to get Democrats elected, still have no reason to believe that putting Democrats in office will meaningfully improve their lives,” said Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash.

The infrastructure bill alone “won’t win elections,” she added. “It is not what we were promised when we put Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House. If Biden is concerned at all about the future of our country, or at the very least voter turnout in 2022, he must pass Build Back Better immediately. Only then can we begin to combat the climate crisis.”

While objections by right-wing Democrats including Manchin forced the party to significantly dial back climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act, the package still includes incentives to manufacture electric vehicles and grow domestic supply chains in renewable energy sectors, a Civilian Climate Corps, and increased investment in “climate smart agriculture.”

The passage of the IIJA and the Build Back Better Act together, said the small business coalition Main Street Alliance, puts the U.S. “on the precipice of a more equitable society” — illustrating why progressives in the House called for both pieces of legislation to be brought to the floor for a vote at the same time.

“In partnership, the Build Back Better Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make critical investments we need to boost our economy and rebuild our communities,” said Chanda Causer, co-executive director of the group. “Now, we are urging the House and Senate to swiftly pass a robust Build Back Better bill as soon as possible and deliver on the promises for millions of people and small businesses in America.”

As Biden signed the infrastructure legislation, the national economic justice group Poor People’s Campaign rallied in Washington, D.C. to demand the urgent passage of the Build Back Better Act, with a number of campaigners arrested during the direct action.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, condemned corporate Democrats for perpetuating false narratives over social investments and the needs of the working class.

“Unstable housing among families with children costs the United States $111 billion in affordable health and special education costs over the next 10 years,” Barber said at the rally. “That’s some cost for you.”

“Public assistance programs spend $153 billion a year as a direct result of low wages,” he added. “If we didn’t have low wages they wouldn’t have to subsidize communities… The problem is we’re not talking about these costs. The only costs they’re talking about is, ‘How much will it cost the billionaires?'”

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