The Prospects for Progress in DC

Marc Stier |

News stories from Washington, D.C., are beginning to remind us of a melodrama with one cliffhanger after another—and they got worse after Speaker Pelosi decided not to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill last night.

The key question appears to be: “will division between progressives and moderates in the Democratic party” be overcome so they can pass a reconciliation bill, an infrastructure bill, and an increase in the debt limit?

Drama is almost always a part of major policy change, and cliffhangers sell newspapers and generate clicks on the Web. But looking forward, it seems clear that much of this daily drama is hysterical. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that President Biden and the Democrats in Congress are going to do all of these things within the next week or two.

Why do I believe this?

First, as a recent poll by Data for Progress demonstrates, both the spending AND the taxation parts of the reconciliation bill are WILDLY popular among Democratic, independent, and, as it turns out, a large number of Republican voters nationwide and in Pennsylvania. The pandemic has shown us that too many children live in poverty and that too many working- and middle-class Americans of all ages have been struggling to pay for child care, housing, and health care—especially pharmaceuticals. And it has reminded us that our future depends not just on what we do as individuals but also what we do together. If our children and grandchildren are to have a decent future, we must address climate change by accelerating the transition to renewable energy. If the economy is to work for all we need programs to remedy the growing gap between the income and wealth of the ultra-rich and everyone else. To begin with, it is time for the very rich and corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes to support programs that raise the standard of living for average Americans as well as for the government as a whole.

Second, Democratic members of Congress are, by and large, NOT divided on these issues. For reasons that only they know, and that certainly have more to do with their long-term career goals (and not necessarily their political prospects) than the concerns of their own state, two Democratic members of the Senate are wary of the price tag of the reconciliation bill. Democrats in Pennsylvania—and in most other states—have been united in support of both the reconciliation bill and the infrastructure bill. They have been leading the effort on behalf of this legislation for months.

The real fight in Washington—the fight the press is not covering—is not among Democrats. It is between Democrats who are almost entirely united in support of a progressive agenda and Republicans who oppose everything Democrats support. Republican members of Congress appear to be in Washington only to represent billionaires who don’t want to pay more in taxes and the pharmaceutical industry which thinks Americans should continue to pay far more for drugs developed in this country than people pay abroad. Because they can’t say that in public, there has been absolutely no effective national opposition to the Biden program on the part of Republicans. What Republicans are saying in local communities and on social media—rants about “socialism” and deficits—is unbelievable to all but the 25% of the public that believes all the crazy conspiracy theories on the Right. Rather than talk about economic inequity, health care, child care, and other issues that concern most Americans, Republicans want to continue stirring divisions on the bases of race and immigration status. But these appeals to their base do not move other members of the public. And that is why there is so little opposition on the ground or in the polls to “Build Back Better.”

So, now is the time to keep reminding our members of Congress that they need to stay the course. They must stick with the program and will then be able to take credit for what we have accomplished when “Build Back Better” is enacted.

You can use our online tool to contact your member of Congress to do that.

Contact your legislators and ignore the handwringing. Both the reconciliation bill and the infrastructure bill will be enacted along with a solution to the debt limit problem. The times and the American people demand it. Most Democrats stand behind them and two of the most effective legislative leaders in American history, President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are leading the effort.

And even though we know that what passes will not be perfect, to defend it is critical. In order to placate Senators Sinema and Manchin, the reconciliation bill may need to be scaled down a bit. That will most likely mean that some of the new and expanded programs it calls for will expire a few years sooner than originally proposed. That is unfortunate, but it is not the end of the world. These programs help children and families and make health care more affordable, which is what people want. And while these proposals are popular now, they’ll become even more popular once passed and people are benefiting from them. It will become politically impossible not to extend them. And keep in mind that the size of the program is not just measured in dollars. It also involves tax credits, including widespread support for children, which are not included in the spending figure.

Stories about conflict and disarray sell newspapers. But the reality is that the people of this country and the Democratic Party in Congress want to “Build Back Better” and “Tax The Rich.”

That’s why it will happen sooner or later.