Fight over public-supported Build Back Better plan heats up

WASHINGTON—As Congress returned to D.C. the week of Nov. 15, the continuing war over President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda—an agenda that would enact the large expansion of the social safety net the U.S. has needed for years—heated up.

Biden was slated to sign the first part of his big-ticket program, the five-year $1.2 trillion “hard infrastructure” bill today, Nov. 15, aimed at rebuilding or replacing the nation’s crumbling roads, creaky subways, aged airports, lead-lined water pipes, and replacing diesel-fueled buses with electric ones, along with extending the Internet and broadband nationwide.

He is also naming former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to a new White House position to oversee it, praising Landrieu for “making racial equity a chief priority” in Landrieu’s past public service, and ordering him to continue to do so.

But that still leaves the 10-year $175-billion-yearly BBB bill to go. And there the road is rockier.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told her caucus on Nov. 13 she intends to bring it up the week of Nov. 15. Two weeks before, she reminded lawmakers the GOP, outnumbered by a 221-213 margin, plans to oppose everything in it.

That includes needed expansions in social programs, such as universal pre-kindergarten—pushed by the teachers—paid family and medical leave, expansion of daycare and child care with better pay for providers, a top cause of the service employees, plus expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, for starters.

“As House Democrats work to lower costs for working Americans and put families first, House Republicans are making clear their agenda doesn’t include any actual support for parents–sending a full memo to their caucus opposing paid family leave policies supported by 84% of Americans,” her office said then.

Deliver landmark support

“While Democrats deliver landmark support for working mothers and fathers to succeed in the workplace and lower the cost of raising a child with affordable child care, universal preschool, the Biden Child Tax Cut and paid family and medical leave, Republicans are busy reminding everyone the GOP opposes giving working parents paid leave to take care of their children.”

All those programs and more fill key holes in the social safety net. And not only the GOP, but the corporate class and the 1% are caterwauling, screaming, and lobbying against them.

In addition to claims by the GOP and concerns by people like Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin that the BBB plan will further fuel inflation, the opposing groups not only hate helping workers and families but also hate having the rich pay their fair share of the tab: The BBB’s entire cost would be funded by higher taxes on millionaires and the nation’s 700 billionaires, higher taxes on oil, gas and coal producers—which would also help cut carbon emissions that cause global warming—and larger fines against rampant corporate labor law-breaking, plus other levies targeting the ultrawealthy. A bill that pays for itself can in no way be termed “inflationary.”

The tax hikes on the rich that are part of the BBB have led the Chamber of Commerce to oppose the reconciliation bill and outraged the radical right National Federation of Independent Business. That group allegedly represents small businesses but really is a key part of the rightist ideological coalition. It claims the increases would hurt “job creators,” their pseudonym for corporations.

And the venal and vicious right-to-work crowd, which schemes to reduce workers to being serfs and slaves, says the expanded fines, plus a supposed restoration of the federal itemized tax deduction for union dues, are “outrageous Big Labor power grabs that” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pelosi “are expected to try to ram through Congress and send to President Joe Biden’s desk this fall as part of the so-called ‘reconciliation’ measure.”

But the corporate class lost the support of one of their key mouthpieces, neo-liberal economist Larry Summers. He predicted early this year Biden’s prior $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would set off inflation. Now he says it didn’t and Biden’s BBB won’t.

Instead, as Larry Kuttner pointed out in The American Prospect, Summers blames current inflation on supply-chain bottlenecks—bottlenecks, Kuttner notes, Summers helped create through rampant deregulation of corporate cabals, notably trucking deregulation.

Biden’s team also notes since the BBB is fully paid for and that its investment in people will boost incomes and earning power of the vast majority of the U.S. while taxing the rich, it will help bring inflation back down, though not by the end of this year.

“Inflation is high right now,” Biden National Economic Council Director Brian Deese admitted on CNN’s Sunday morning State of the Union talk show, after the latest figures showing it running at a 6.2% annual rate. “And it is affecting consumers in their pocketbook and also in their outlook for the economy.”

Will go at the costs

But the BBB legislation, “more than anything, will go at the costs that Americans face,” he declared. “We’re confident this bill, as it moves through the process, is going to be fully paid for, and not only that, it’s actually going to reduce deficits over the long term.”

The battle also led backers of Biden’s BBB to march, run ads, and otherwise lobby their lawmakers, not just in the House but especially in the 50-50 Senate, to approve the massive transformational legislation.

“New ad out today reminding of the promise to vote yes this week. It’s time. Pass Build Back Better Act now. @HouseDemocrats #CareCantWait #BuildBackBetter,” tweeted Ai Jen-Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

“Tell Your Senators to Support Good Jobs and a Pathway to Citizenship” a banner on the AFL-CIO website declares, emphasizing the BBB bill also opens the way for undocumented people to stay in the U.S., legally, a top goal of the AFL-CIO.

“The best way to strengthen our democracy and economy is by empowering working people—no exceptions. However, millions of undocumented immigrants, who are vital to our economic recovery, still live in fear because of our outdated and inhumane immigration system.

“It’s time to put an end to this injustice. All people who live and work here deserve a job with full rights and protections. So tell your senators to pass a budget that includes a broad pathway to citizenship.

“Immigrants and refugees have always helped to build, serve and feed our nation, just as they did and continue to do throughout the pandemic,” their petition continues. “It has been nearly 35 years since our last path to citizenship, and working families can’t wait any longer. The Senate has a historic opportunity to extend permanent rights and protections to millions of long-term members of our communities, our workforce, and our unions.

“Call now to tell your senators to deliver on citizenship: 833-770-1697.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., who as Senate Budget Committee chair crafted the initial version of the BBB plan, which was double the amount now pending, also warned the corporate class is lobbying hard to kill it. His comments were in an op-ed appearing earlier on, of all places, the right-wing mouthpiece, Fox News.

Part of a corrupt system

“As part of our corrupt, big-money-dominated political system, the pharmaceutical industry is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying, campaign contributions, and television ads to defeat this legislation because it does not want Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices,” Sanders said.

He noted Big Pharma had hired approximately 1,500 lobbyists to strong-arm its cause. That works out to about three lobbyists per lawmaker.

The health insurance industry, which is noted for denying care and forcing hospitals into short-staffing and throwing out convalescing patients early, by refusing to pay for their care, is “spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat this bill because they do not want Congress to expand Medicare to provide dental, hearing, and vision benefits and they apparently do not want seniors to receive the quality care they need in their own homes,” Sanders added.

Still, mass citizen movements are needed to pass the BBB and counter the corporate campaign.

Pelosi’s commitment to pass the BBB bill “is a major step forward toward delivering a package that meets the needs of working families,” Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry said, urging her union’s two million-plus members and their families to mobilize.

“Only by passing the infrastructure bill AND the Build Back Better Act can Congress ensure an equitable recovery, especially for the Black, Latina, Asian American Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and immigrant women hit hardest by the pandemic. This is about Congress’s responsibility to working people and delivering an historic investment in America’s working families of all races. The president and Congress have to get this to the finish line.

“Investments in physical infrastructure are critical but must be connected to similar investments in our care economy. We need to invest in our care economy to protect and expand our home- and community-based care system to work for both families and those who provide these critical services by creating good union jobs and expanding access to long-term care,” she added.

All are holes in the safety net that corporate interests and the 1% have pigeonholed and bottled up for years. The last time there was federal-funded child care, for example, was World War II, when men were off fighting fascism and women Rosie The Riveters took over defense factory jobs. Then, many of the firms, notably Kaiser shipyards, also set up daycare centers on-site.

“Funding climate resilience efforts in frontline communities and communities of color that bear the brunt of environmental injustice will secure the cleaner future we owe our children,” added Henry. “Supporting immigrant communities will properly honor the millions of people who have always been essential, and who put their own safety at risk to keep our nation running even as the Covid-19 pandemic struck,” she said, reminding everyone—as if we need it—why Congress is considering the BBB.

The Poor People’s Campaign took the drive for the BBB bill straight to senators’ home offices over the congressional recess and to D.C. with a press conference and peaceful sit-in on Capitol Hill on Nov. 15.

“America has the resources for Build Back Better and much more,” its co-chair, Bishop William Barber II said beforehand. “This bill is being delayed because Republicans and Democratic senators like” West Virginian Joe Manchin and Arizonan Kyrsten “Sinema would rather line the pockets of greedy billionaires than address the pain that poor and low-wealth Americans face every day–severe burdens that threaten their lives.”

PPC Co-Chair the Rev. Liz Theoharis added: “Investing in healthcare, early childhood education, the child tax credit, paid sick leave, climate-resilient jobs, and a more fair tax system, as well as other programs of the Build Back Better agenda, rebounds to the benefit of all. It is past time to pass this first step and keep building from the bottom up. We can no longer wait.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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