President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted by the force of will Thursday to shake something loose and advance both the president’s Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure bill the Senate has already passed. The problem is, they didn’t loop the Senate in on the plan, and the usual suspects—Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—not only didn’t help, they hurt the effort.
Biden and Pelosi were pushing for the House to do anything, and by anything they meant breaking the long-standing agreement with Biden, Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to move the bipartisan bill on hard infrastructure simultaneously with the big budget reconciliation bill containing Biden’s climate and human infrastructure agenda. They were trying to get House progressives to relent and just pass the hard infrastructure bill so that Biden could leave on his trip to Rome and then to Glasgow for the global climate summit with a “win.” Never mind that the win would be a fossil fuel-heavy roads construction bill, not exactly the best tool to use to convince other countries to reduce their carbon emissions.
Biden was unable to assure the House members that he had Sinema and Manchin on board with the Build Back Better framework he was presenting. For their part, they each refused to do the one simple thing that would have convinced progressives in the House and Senate: Say “yes.”
Sinema released a statement simply saying “we have made significant progress,” and “I look forward to getting this done.” Manchin was Manchin.
The most anyone could get him to say was, “This is all in the hands of the house right now, I’ve worked in good faith and I look forward to continuing to work in good faith and that is all I have to say today.“ It appears that neither of them see any need to do more.
The glaring fact—increasingly recognized even by traditional media—is that these two are the blockage. They’ve negotiated the larger package down and down and down further (community college, prescription drug prices, and paid family leave are all out as of now) and yet still pointedly refuse to say they will vote with the rest of their fellow Democrats to get this done. It’s not progressives who are blocking this.
In fact, after a Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) meeting that followed the Biden/Pelosi full caucus meeting, chair of the caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal released a statement announcing: “just overwhelmingly voted to endorse, in principle, the entire Build Back Better Act framework announced by President Biden today. We appreciate the President’s leadership and his commitment to getting this process over the finish line.” She said that Biden had “reaffirmed, as our Caucus has month after month, that both the infrastructure bill and the popular Build Back Better Act must move together because they are part of the same agenda,” and that the CPC was “reiterating our enthusiastic commitment to delivering that entire agenda to people across America.”
“There is too much at stake for working families and our communities to settle for something that can be later misunderstood, amended or abandoned altogether,” Jayapal continued. “That is why dozens of our members insist on keeping both bills linked and cannot vote only for one until they can be voted on altogether.”
While the bill was whittled down substantially, what remains in it is very good. It extends the expanded child tax credit for another year (instead of the four originally planned); provides universal pre-K for the next six years; provides assistance for families of four earning less than $300,000/year for child care, assuring they won’t need to pay more than 7% of their income for care of children under 6 years old; continues the premium assistance included in the COVID-19 relief bill for people buying insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces through 2025; adds subsidies for the 2 million people in the Medicaid gap in nonexpansion states to get insurance through the ACA; expands Medicare with hearing benefits (vision and dental are out as of now); and provides funding for home care for elderly and disabled people.
The bulk of the spending in the bill, $550 billion of it, goes to fighting climate change. That includes tax credits for clean energy production and the manufacture of clean energy technology components. It increases tax credits for the purchase of electric cars and clean technology like solar panels, as well as their manufacture. The original mix of carrots (tax credits and grants) and sticks (fines and penalties for delaying the transition to clean energy production) is pretty much all carrots now. However—and this is fairly big—the legislative text the House drew up based on Biden’s framework includes a fee for oil and gas operators per metric ton of released methane. It also includes the sweetener of $775 million in grants, rebates, and loans to oil and gas operators to help reduce and monitor methane emissions. Even with all that free money, Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration & Production Council, panned the proposal as “a poorly constructed natural gas tax,” so don’t expect Manchin to agree to it.
The tax plan for paying for the bill has changed as well, with the billionaire tax out and new surtaxes on high incomes in: 5% surtax on individual income above $10 million and an additional 3% on incomes above $25 million. It would establish a 15% minimum tax on corporations earning $1 billion or more, and a global minimum tax of 15% on the foreign profits of U.S. companies. It would add a 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks, and finally it provides funding for the IRS to enforce against tax cheats.
What is out as of Thursday is Medicare negotiation on prescription drugs, paid family and medical leave, and that billionaire’s tax. However, the negotiating is not done—another very good reason for progressives to continue to hang tough. Pelosi is working to revive some part of a prescription drug pricing provision that would at least allow Medicare to negotiate on drugs administered by providers—vaccines and IV drugs, for example—and would cap out-of-pocket drug expenditures for people on Medicare. Drug makers with prices that increase faster than the rate of inflation would be penalized in both Medicare and the employer-sponsored insurance markets.
In a call with Senate Democrats Thursday afternoon, Schumer told his members that they can still get things either in or out of the reconciliation bill for the next week. Is that going to do the trick with the troublesome two? Probably not. Their incentives to keep obstructing are significant.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.