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Progressives Push Democrats to Reject Outdated Austerity Policies

Progressives are calling on Democrats to ensure that all of the party’s key priorities remain in the final budget.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is seen in the U.S. Capitol as the Senate tries to come to an agreement on raising the debt limit on October 6, 2021.

The leaders of dozens of grassroots progressive advocacy groups joined their congressional allies late Tuesday in calling on Democrats to reject “false choices” posed by right-wing lawmakers and ensure that all of the party’s key priorities — from child care to Medicare expansion to climate action — remain in the final budget reconciliation package.

“It is beyond absurd that we are talking about choosing between child care and elder care or tax cuts to families and free community college,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, said during Tuesday night’s #TimeToDeliver town hall, a virtual event that brought together activists and top progressives in Congress, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We have more than enough resources to do all of it. We’re the richest country on earth,” Epting continued. “This is not a time for politics as usual or tired and outdated austerity policies. The ultra-rich and huge corporations have made massive profits in the middle of this pandemic. Simply making them pay their fair share will be more than enough money to cover these essential policies. This is a once-in-a-generation moment for Congress to act and to act boldly to meet this moment.”

The town hall came as Democratic leaders continued their efforts to secure the votes of a small — but, given the slim margins in Congress, powerful — number of corporate-friendly lawmakers who are refusing to support a popular $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. While the right-wing Democratic holdouts have repeatedly declined to publicly specify the programs they want to cut, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled Monday that some of the party’s priorities may have to be axed to lower the bill’s top-line price tag.

Politico reported last week that the Biden White House is “seriously entertaining the idea of across-the-board haircuts to most items” in the reconciliation package as well as the removal of entire programs.

But progressives are pushing back against that approach, warning it would be morally and politically disastrous to impose artificial constraints on spending in the midst of a deadly pandemic, economic recession, and worsening climate crisis. According to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) proposal to cut the reconciliation bill’s price tag by $2 trillion over a decade would support two million fewer jobs each year than the full Build Back Better plan.

“Slashing investments that will create millions of good-paying jobs and make child care, healthcare, and housing more affordable is a recipe for a weak recovery and inequitable future,” said Claire Guzdar, a spokesperson for the ProsperUS coalition. “Congress should pass the full Build Back Better agenda without delay. We can’t afford not to.”

Jayapal, the chair of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said during Tuesday’s event that progressives in the House and Senate are “united in our insistence that these priorities — climate action, the care economy, housing, roadmap to citizenship, expanded healthcare, and tax fairness — are included and funded in the final bill.”

“We have to insist that the will of the 96% of Democrats in the House and the Senate, the leadership of the president, and the majority of the American people is not ignored for the misplaced priorities of 4% of our colleagues who aren’t yet on board,” she added.

Sanders, chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, echoed Jayapal on Tuesday, declaring that “now is the time for us to stand up for the working class of this country and tell the billionaires that they’re going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes.”

“What we are talking about is not simply a laundry list, a wish list,” Sanders said. “It is the needs of the American people. We will no longer continue to have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on Earth… We are going to make sure that no family in America pays more than 7% of their incomes for child care. We’re going to make pre-K universal and free. We’re going to deal with the affordable housing crisis because we are tired of seeing half a million people in this country homeless, sleeping out on the streets.”

“We’re going to deal with climate,” Sanders continued, “because we know we have the moral responsibility to address that so that the planet we leave for our kids and grandchildren is healthy and habitable.”

Earlier Tuesday, as Common Dreams reported, Jayapal and Sanders both indicated that a proposal to expand Medicare benefits to cover dental, hearing, and vision is “not negotiable” — a position they staked out amid reports that the plan is on the chopping block due to opposition from right-wing Democrats.

“As part of the reconciliation bill, Americans want to lower prescription drug costs (88%) and expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing (84%),” Sanders tweeted Tuesday, pointing to recent polling. “Both proposals are strongly opposed by drug companies and private insurance. The Dems must stand with the people, not fold.”

Late last month, members of the CPC acted as a bloc to ensure that the reconciliation package and a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill remained linked, a strategy progressives believe is necessary to get the Build Back Better Act to President Joe Biden’s desk intact.

“Progressives in Congress held the line, but we’re not done yet,” Jayapal stressed Tuesday as Democrats rush to complete the reconciliation bill by the end of the month, a tall task given ongoing disputes over the bill’s top-line cost as well as its specific provisions.

Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, said during the town hall that “it is well past time for Congress to deliver and pass an inclusive reconciliation bill through both the House and Senate.”

“Progressives made clear they will not allow conservative Democrats to gamble away the policies that will expand healthcare coverage and lower prescription drug prices, [create] tax fairness, build a pathway to citizenship and include immigrants in recovery provisions, invest in clean energy and climate action, and meet needs like child care, paid leave, and affordable housing,” said Greenberg. “It is time to deliver for our families, our communities, and the planet.”

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