President Joe Biden is trying to rally Democrats around a new reconciliation deal that would cut the topline of the Build Back Better Act by around half, and severely water down some of the bill’s key proposals.
After months of negotiating with conservative Democrats, Biden told Democrats on Tuesday that he wanted to move forward with a bill worth between $1.75 trillion and $1.9 trillion — a huge cut from the $3.5 trillion presented by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) earlier this year, which was rallied behind by other Democrats. This is an even larger cut from the $6 trillion or $10 trillion that progressives had originally unveiled; instead, the number is closer to the price tag that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) demanded in secret.
Though the new proposal is still in negotiations, this is the first instance of Biden standing behind a price tag other than $3.5 trillion over 10 years, which now seems unlikely to pass. The details of this proposal are discouraging for progressives hoping for a transformative climate and social spending bill, as negotiations with conservative Democrats have produced far-reaching cuts.
Biden said that the child tax credit, among the bill’s most crucial proposals, would be cut down to only a one year extension, rather than the 10 year extension or permanent implementation that some Democrats were hoping for. Child-related proposals like childcare funding and universal pre-kindergarten are still included — the latter likely because Manchin’s state already has universal pre-K.
Meanwhile, the paid family leave benefit may be cut from 12 weeks to four, meaning that parents would have merely a month to spend off of work with their newborn baby. Though this is marginally better than zero weeks of paid family leave, it’s a far cry from the two months or more that many other wealthy countries guarantee to their residents.
Free community college has been cut out of the new package entirely. Sanders’s Medicare expansion, which sought to allow seniors to access dental, vision and hearing coverage, may be watered down to include dental only — and even that would be limited to a “pilot program” instead of universal rollout.
Though other details have yet to be worked out, one contentious area is climate — an especially timely issue as the international climate summit, COP26, approaches at the end of this month. Without climate commitments in the reconciliation bill, the U.S. will have little to show for plans to reach the country’s emissions targets.
The inclusion of climate proposals in the Build Back Better Act is critical because this may be the Democrats’ last chance to pass climate legislation before the 2022 midterm elections, which early projections show may be an uphill battle for Democrats. As increased climate disasters in past years have demonstrated, the climate crisis is rapidly accelerating, and the U.S. still has no federal policy in place aimed specifically at decreasing emissions.
The biggest hurdles to passing climate policy are dual obstructionists Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). Sinema has indicated a desire to cut $100 billion of climate proposals from the bill, while coal baron Manchin is insisting on gutting the Clean Energy Payment Program, the heart of the climate portion of the bill.
The conservative Democrats have been the loudest voices against the anti-poverty, climate-crisis-combatting bill — likely because of their strong ties with Exxon and other influential lobbyist groups. But despite the fact that Manchin and Sinema stand alone among Senate members in their opposition to the bill’s proposals, they have succeeded in cutting the bill down enormously.
As Sanders has pointed out numerous times, $3.5 trillion over 10 years — or only $350 billion a year — is already a compromise for progressive lawmakers. Yet Manchin and Sinema insist upon curbing social and climate spending — even though neither have raised any objections to the proposed $778 billion slated to go toward defense spending for 2022, just after the U.S. purportedly pulled out of its longest war.
Progressive lawmakers have condemned Manchin’s hypocrisy. “He is going to lower the number every time a reporter asks,” tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) on Tuesday, in response to Manchin’s insistence that the bill be cut by $2 trillion. “It’s all a joke to him. He isn’t negotiating, he is killing the bill and it’s time we all recognized it. Sadly, his shameful tactics will cost his constituents much needed investments for themselves and families.”
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