Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi can’t get the votes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, still held hostage to the partisan $3.5 trillion spending spree. In an embarrassing week, the vote has been delayed twice, Bernie Sanders called to defeat it entirely, and Biden’s entire agenda is on the brink of the abyss. Isn’t governing grand?
They say never interfere with an enemy that’s in the process of destroying themselves. While I’m hesitant to refer to my fellow Americans as the enemy, I’m honest enough to admit a certain schadenfreude at the ongoing civil war between the progressives and (increasingly small) moderate wing of the Democrat Party. The proximate cause of this internal strife is the proposed, yet not quite written, $3.5 trillion spending and social program extravaganza progressives are convinced will save the country, perhaps the world and the solar system as well. They’ve been demanding for months that more moderate members get on board, or else. The else is the fate of the more popular and palatable $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, passed by the Senate earlier this year with a strongly bipartisan vote. It’s future remains in doubt as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rescheduled a planned vote on Monday and pulled it from the floor at the eleventh hour last night.
The problem is simple: $1.2 trillion simply isn’t enough for progressives, who have insisted repeatedly on the passage of both bills at the same time. Democratic Socialist hero Bernie Sanders, for example, claims we can’t afford anything less than a combined $4.7 trillion, not a single solitary penny. In his mind, progressives already compromised to reach the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill after proposing $6 trillion. Writing for USA Today, the Senator from Vermont asks, “Now, for whatever reason, pundits say we should compromise even more and cut back on addressing the long-neglected problems facing working families as well as climate change. Really? Please tell me where we should cut.” Senator Sanders then launches into a litany of all the miracles produced by these new, expensive social programs. Direct payments to parents that have supposedly cut child poverty in half, despite a complete lack of evidence that’s the case. Subsidies for child care, free education for all, dental coverage for seniors, paid family leave, home healthcare, free housing, fighting climate change, lowering prescription drug costs, doing the dishes after dinner and the laundry while you watch Netflix.
I added those last two myself, of course, but, seriously, is there anything this bill doesn’t do? Senator Sanders concludes by listing the opposition in stark, class warfare terms. “This reconciliation bill is being opposed by every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class. They want to maintain the status quo in which the rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet.” I’m not so sure it’s opposed by the billionaire class, known to be radically more progressive than America at large, certainly fellow Democratic Socialist was the bell of the ball at the Met Gala, but what he fails to mention: It’s also opposed by two critical Democrat Senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, and a handful of Members of Congress.
As a result, the reconciliation bill and its companion infrastructure bill are currently on life support, dangling by a thread hanging over the legislative abyss, solely because Senator Sander’s own party is squeamish about it. The Associated Press is reporting that tensions are so high between progressives and moderates that “trust is gone,” throwing around words like “stupid” and “insanity” to describe the other side. “It’s not healthy for the Democrats to be issuing ultimatums about tactics” against each other, explained Representative Peter Welch from Vermont. “It’s politically, existentially important to us to be successful. We fail, we’re doomed.”
What to do about this impasse? Lie about it of course. They also say there’s no free lunch, but don’t tell that to progressives. They’ve convinced themselves that the optimal strategy to market and gain support for their $3.5 trillion spending spree is to claim it’s actually free. Yes, it might cost up to $5 trillion or more, but what difference does it make when it’s free anyway? Earlier this month, White House chief of staff Ron Klain told the SALT financial conference in New York, “The net cost of Build Back Better is zero.” A few days ago, a White House spokesman told Axios, “The bill’s price tag is $0 because it will be paid for by ending failed, special tax giveaways for the richest taxpayers and big corporations, adding nothing to the debt.” Speaker Pelosi said “It’s not about a dollar amount. The dollar amount, as the president said, is zero. This bill will be paid for.”
This is a truly incredible framing of the issue: Spend more than any country has ever spent in the history of the known universe, but it doesn’t matter anyway because it’s free. Why not make it $50 trillion in that case? The lie is especially bold faced and obvious when you consider a final bill hasn’t even been issued yet for the Congressional Budget Office to analyze. No official body has applied any costing to it at all. The only real information we have on the planned tax increases to offset these massive costs is a bill which passed the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year. This version raises “only” $2.1 trillion in taxes against a total that’s at least $1.4 trillion higher. No tax framework under public consideration accounts for the difference, meaning there’s either a tax increase more massive than any we’ve ever seen before or they’re lying. In either case, we’re now totally ignoring the current deficit as if it doesn’t exist. For the record, it’s running at $2.71 trillion through August with another full month in the fiscal year. Remember way back when Obama was in office, those halcyon days when a trillion was still a lot of money?
This would be funny if it wasn’t so insane and reckless. Never before in the history of the country has either party attempted to ram through trillions in spending and massive changes to the social contract, accompanied by thousands of pages of poison pills and giveaways, using a 50-50 Senate and holding the slightest of majorities in the House of Representatives. Progressives continue to insist these plans, from expanded welfare benefits to the climate, are both popular and necessary, but, in that case, why the mad rush to pass a bill that isn’t even written yet and hold hostage a far more popular bipartisan infrastructure proposal in the process? Perhaps it’s because these plans aren’t nearly as popular as advertised, as evidenced by their inability to get more moderate members of their own party fully on board.
From the very beginning of this debate, the Democrat plan has been to hold each wing of their party hostage to the other, literally playing chicken with their own caucus and the United States budget. The Senate has already the passed bipartisan compromise on infrastructure spending, earning 19 Republican votes. This bill has been sitting on Nancy Pelosi’s desk for months, but progressives have much more than a “mere” $1.2 trillion in mind. They decided the best way to proceed was to make voting on one dependent on voting on the other. Progressives would support the $1.2 trillion if moderates supported the $3.5 trillion. According to the Associated Press, “That was to be a kind of mutually assured destruction moment, letting each of the party’s wings hold the other’s priority hostage until both could pass.”
Now, they’re shocked that moderates are still balking, but think about this for a moment: Progressives want both bills to pass. Moderates want only one bill to pass. What kind of “compromise” is this when progressives get everything they want and moderates get completely shafted, putting their own political future at risk in swing districts? The moderates haven’t moved because none of their concerns have been addressed. It’s that simple. Senator Manchin has been adamantly opposed to the plan the entire time, releasing another statement this Wednesday. “Every Member of Congress has a solemn duty to vote for what they believe is best for the country and the American people, not their party. Respectfully, as I have said for months, I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party must ask the simple question – how much is enough?” He continues, “spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity” and “the amount we spend now must be balanced with what we need and can afford – not designed to reengineer the social and economic fabric of this nation or vengefully tax for the sake of wishful spending.” He’s set an additional $1.5 trillion as his limit, not that another trillion and a half is chump change or anything.
Senator Manchin is also concerned about spiraling inflation, rightfully in my opinion, “Suggesting that spending trillions more will not have an impact on inflation ignores the everyday reality that America’s families continue pay an unavoidable inflation tax.” In the meantime, the “experts,” as usual, are rapidly changing their story on this looming catastrophe. At first, we were told inflation wasn’t a concern, despite that real wages are 2% lower than during the middle of the pandemic and prices on almost every kind of goods are skyrocketing. Then, they told us inflation was only a short-term phenomena, nothing like the Great Stagflation of the 1970’s. Now, they are saying, maybe not, maybe it’s a real problem. “Inflation is elevated and will likely remain so in coming months before moderating,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told a Senate hearing on Tuesday. “As the economy continues to reopen and spending rebounds, we are seeing upward pressure on prices, particularly due to supply bottlenecks in some sectors. These effects have been larger and longer lasting than anticipated, but they will abate, and as they do, inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run 2 percent goal.” The question is: Why should we believe them now? Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had predicted 2% inflation for the entire year. The Federal Reserve jumped out to 3.4% in June and is now up to 4.2%, meaning where more than double what the experts said and could still climb further.
This opposition from moderates has been immutable for months now, but progressives are still trying to depict themselves as the aggrieved party. “We are not blindly trusting that these bills are going to get done in the Senate, without actually having that be guaranteed,” proclaimed Representative Ilhan Omar, a member of “The Squad” from Minnesota. “My father told me when I was growing up, there’s a fine line between being a good guy” and a “fool,” said Rep. Jim McGovern from Massachusetts. “I don’t want to be rolled,” displaying a stunning lack of self awareness that the entire plan has always been to roll moderates, forcing them to do what they adamantly oppose. Some members are even talking about the situation in terms of a threat, “I definitely have a sense that the Progressive Caucus means business,” said Representative Mark Takano from California, a caucus member. “You do need credible threats to force people to talk. Tomorrow’s in that category of a credible threat.”
Ultimately, no one has explained why all of these disparate items, from home healthcare to climate, should be included in a single, massive, almost incomprehensible pill packed with pork, tax increases, and odd clauses like a new ability for the IRS to monitor almost every bank transaction, even those under a thousand dollars. At the risk of sounding a little liberal, some of these ideas may have merit on their own. The payment of child tax credits monthly might offer more predictability to low-income parents and enable them to more wisely spend the money. Everyone knows that child care costs are astronomical and place huge burdens on even middle income families. Home healthcare could be a better option for some seniors, and in many cases will be cheaper than a nursing home. These are policies that might well be able to attract enough Republican votes to pass without resorting to a rigged reconciliation process, but they need to be debated on at a time, on their own merits, and with their own budgets and cost implications. Packaging them up as one behemoth bill effectively makes it impossible to discuss them rationally, and turning separate issues into one love it or leave it vote hardens the opposition, pushing people away.
Incredibly, this intraparty squabble has placed Biden’s entire Presidency at risk, threatening to blow open a rift between Democrats that might not be filled while he’s in office. Speaker Pelosi has a well deserved reputation as a master vote counter. She’s now had to delay a vote on the infrastructure bill twice. Is the third time the charm, or will the whole thing go down in flames? Do progressives care, or do they want to blow it up simply to make a point? It sure seems that way after Senator Sanders said this late last night, “So, I hope again, the strategy should be to defeat this infrastructure bill.” Yes, progressives are now saying they want to destroy one of the centerpieces of Biden’s agenda. Isn’t governing grand?