“Dems in Disarray” or the New American Zeitgeist?

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A friend who has little interest and much dislike of politics wrote to me after I’d reblogged “The Republicans Are Playing Chicken.” That post detailed the Republicans’ cynical determination to enact a new low in politics: refusing to work with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.

The result of this maneuver, which would be akin to a person’s failure to pay a credit card debt, would have had huge ramifications for our economy and the world’s economic picture.

It was particularly shameful/shameless because the debt to be repaid includes Trump’s vast tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. Fortunately, the Democrats headed it off–for now.

My friend said he sees politics today as Republicans fighting Republicans and Democrats, and Democrats fighting Democrats and Republicans. I was so surprised by this comment, which I understood to mean he saw everything going on in our country as fairly equivalent in both parties, that I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t respond to that statement.

But I realized there may be many Americans who share his view, so I feel it’s important to show how wrong it is–dangerously wrong, if it leads to lack of enthusiasm in voting in 2022.

Let’s start with Dems fighting Dems. In fact, 96% of Congressional Democrats now support both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has passed the Senate and the “human infrastructure” bill that will need to be passed by budget reconciliation by the Democrats alone. There is almost no disagreement about the importance of the bill. Those for it include members elected in swing states and those who won in districts that Trump had carried in 2016.

The progressives took a stance that they wouldn’t vote for the infrastructure bill until they were sure they’d get the full support of all the Senate Democrats for the reconciliation bill. And although there was some messiness in the artificial deadlines that couldn’t be met, it is likely that a scaled down version of the bill will pass, naysayers notwithstanding.

This bill has the overwhelming support of the American people in poll after poll. It is President Biden’s bill–not some crazy far-out “socialist plot.” In the poor state of West Virginia, where Senator Joe Manchin is holding out for a smaller bill, it has 70% support.

“Build Back Better” is designed to redress the terrible imbalance in the American economy that’s been growing for the last 40 years as the wealthy advance and the middle class and poor stagnate or fall behind.

If enacted, even at a lower figure than the $3.5 trillion over 10 years, its results could be transformative for Americans who’ve been struggling. It is truly an investment in the people of our country–and our country’s future.

Robert Hubbell writes in his newsletter “Today’s Edition” that some say Biden’s proposal will “radically reshape our society.”

He then counters that argument, first stating what the bill will do:

*Add dental and vision coverage to Medicare

*Allow the federal government (instead of insurance companies) to negotiate drug prices for Medicare recipients

*Offer two years of free tuition to community college

*Increase the amount of federal financial aid for students attending four-year colleges

*Invest in the construction or rehabilitation of 2 million homes

*Increase the Child Tax Credit

*Increase the Earned Income Credit from $543 to $1,502

*Reduce [health] insurance premiums for low-income Americans

*Expand free school meals

*Rehabilitate infrastructure in aging school buildings

*Invest in workforce training to respond to the changing job market

*Extend and increase the tax credit for electric vehicles

*Extend and increase the tax credit for clean energy

*Establish clean energy standards

*Create a Civilian Climate Corps

“With the exception of the creation of Civilian Climate Corps, the above items merely expand (or reduce) existing benefits or costs. Those revisions to existing programs will not ‘radically reshape our society.’ They will help working Americans to build better lives for their families in a safer, cleaner environment.

“Opponents complain about clean energy credits, but do not complain about subsidies to oil and coal companies. Opponents complain about child tax credits and earned income credits but do not object to corporations writing off obscene stock grants to CEOs. Opponents complain about free meals for school children but do not object to corporations writing off $1,000 lunches when executives entertain clients at fancy restaurants…

“Pick a provision of the reconciliation package and you can find a similar but more expensive benefit granted to corporations in the current tax code. Joe Biden is investing in the American people rather than corporations. If that is ‘radically reshaping our society, we need more of it, not less.”

This bill will not add to the debt or deficit. It will be paid for over its proposed 10-year life by “making the tax code fairer and making the wealthiest and large corporations pay their fair share,” according to the White House.

And that’s why it’s under attack by powerful forces, including lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry and pharmaceutical industry.

Conservative columnist David Brooks fully supports this legislative move. He finds it necessary to address ‘“the crisis that Biden was elected to address — the poisonous combination of elite insularity and vicious populist resentment.”

“The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward.

They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty.

“Look at the list of states that, according to a recent analysis of White House estimates by CNBC, could be among those getting the most money per capita from the infrastructure bill. A lot of them are places where Trumpian resentment is burning hot: Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota. (emphasis mine)

In normal times, I’d argue that many of the programs in these packages may be ineffective. I’m a lot more worried about debt than progressives seem to be. But we’re a nation enduring a national rupture, and the most violent parts of it may still be yet to come.

“These packages say to the struggling parents and the warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You are paving your way. You are at the center of our national vision.”

“This is how you fortify a compelling moral identity, which is what all of us need if we’re going to be able to look in the mirror with self-respect. This is the cultural transformation that good policy can sometimes achieve. Statecraft is soulcraft.”

And what have the Republicans been doing while the Democrats are trying to make America a fairer place? In Congress, they’ve been uniformly opposing the legislation, with the old “socialist” canards, etc.

In the states, they’ve been continuing their efforts to diminish voting based on disproven fraud in the past election. They adhere to the Big Lie that Trump won, even when there’s overwhelming evidence even from his own former staff that they knew he’d lost.

They continue demonizing Covid vaccines and protective masks, encouraging potential violence that’s resulted in screaming at local school boards about reasonable Covid mandates to save children’s lives, as well as manufactured scare tactics surrounding “critical race theory.”

Read Heather Cox Richardson’s Letter From an American (October 1) for a view of what was going on in the Trump administration exactly one year ago today. Her entire essay is worth the time. She concludes:

“For my part, I’m not sure what is driving the stories that seem to paint Biden’s work as a lost cause: The recent position that Democrats are hapless? That it’s safer to be negative than positive? That our news cycle demands drama?

“Whatever it is, I continue to maintain that the issue right now is not Democrats’ negotiations over the infrastructure bills—regardless of how they turn out—but that Republican lawmakers are actively working to undermine our democracy.

I heartily agree with her, and with political scientist and journalist David Rothkopf, who tweeted a lengthy series of excellent comments pointing out how silly the media’s take on the “Dems in Disarray” is when the Democrats are, around the clock, doing the hard work of attempting to legislate a huge and much-needed package.

(Rothkopf and others have a podcast discussion bearing a title that refers to the expansion of Medicare to include coverage of eyeglasses and hearing aids: “When Did Old People Being Able to Hear or Chew Their Food Become Marxism?”)

Rothkopf concluded his tweet thread:

“They [Democrats] will continue to be the one party seeking to defend our democracy and ensure our rights and strengthen our country at home and abroad. Does that sound like disarray to you. If it is, I’m all for it. We need it. It is the only path to our growth & survival as a country.”

What do you think? I keep pondering David Brooks’s thoughts that this transformative legislation may be a way to reach some of the disaffected who might otherwise be prone to hopelessness and even violence. Wouldn’t that be an extraordinary example of Joe Biden’s keeping his campaign promises to accomplish the seemingly impossible work of unifying our nation?

Annie

27 thoughts on ““Dems in Disarray” or the New American Zeitgeist?

  1. Annie: Your lengthy treatise probably deserves an equally lengthy reply, but in this case I’ll make it simple. With a razor thin majority in both parts of Congress, it’s incumbent for the Democrats to get a win on the human infrastructure component. Progressives have to look at the long game, one that will never occur unless the Democrats increase their numbers in both Houses of Congress. Success in 2022 will have two important results; the first will then allow for a revisiting of the human infrastructure component and add to the compromised bill; the second result, in my opinion, will significantly weaken trump and his acolytes as we head to 2024.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Steve, I certainly understand the “bird in the hand” philosophy, and a part of me agrees with it. But I also agree with the progressives that without their pressure, Manchin and Sinema would simply walk away after the infrastructure bill passes. I am confident that all Congressional Democrats know they will all rise or fall together—and they won’t let the President—and the country—down. Success now will increase their chances of gaining more seats in 2022. But they must attend to the voting rights bill pronto as well.

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    1. Absolutely, Neil. My concern is that not enough people are paying attention to their disgraceful actions. I hope lots of folks read Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter, to which I’ve linked: she lays it all out so well!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Annie, the news plays up conflict, as that is what sells. I do wish the Infrastructure bill got passed sooner rather than tying the two together. Congress has missed momentum and we have now let other issues get confused with it. The Highway Trust funding just expired and now the Republicans are holding the debt ceiling hostage as Ted Cruz did eight years ago, when both parties contributed to our debt and deficit problems. It should be noted ten female senators from both parties had to pull together in the last 24 hours to avoid the US from defaulting on its debts telling Cruz and others to get out of the pool and let the adults swim.

    My guess is something will get passed on top of the infrastructure bill and all states will benefit, especially those states in need. Yet, the numbers on the Build Back Better bill will be less. Dems say it is paid for, but the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says some of the funding is based on too optimistic projections. The key per Brooks and Capeheart on PBS Newshour is what will be shaved from the final product.

    As an independent voter, we do have a debt and deficit problem we must deal with. So, it is right to question expenditures (and look at revenue sources). Yet, there are certain expenditures that will be accretive to the economy and spending to build or repair an asset is different than spending to pay for operations. Grandstanding with the debt limit is not the solution, especially when the grandstanders voted to cut taxes in 2017 raising the debt by $2 trillion, approx. and the limit addresses money already spent.

    Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith: I, too, expect/hope that the human infrastructure bill will pass—albeit at a lower amount: it can still do much good if it’s carefully implemented and covers programs for five years rather than the stated 10 years. There’s no doubt that the growing disparity between the wealthiest and everyone else has destabilized our society. And we’re running out of time on climate change.
      That is is what surprises me most about the wild card: Sinema. Supposedly, climate change is important to her; she was a Green Party devotee years ago. Personal enrichment appears to have exceeded that concern. So scary that one or two Senators have so much power!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Annie, the time is well past due to move forward with more climate change federal investment. Thank goodness, private industry has pushed ahead making renewables much more cost effective and widespread than before. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition needs to marry its funding with more federal funding. Sinema is not the first hypocritical politician, even this week. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

      2. All true, Keith. But there are reasons the fossil fuel industry is fighting the reconciliation bill. I heard AOC say in an interview that the bipartisan infrastructure bill alone would be a net negative for climate change. If that’s the case, I feel it’s even more imperative that anyone who cares about our planet encourages legislative passage of both bills.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Annie, what I find interesting and have for about ten years is if the fossil fuel industry does not keep up, the renewable energy will leave it behind as prices are now more equal and even better with some renewables. The US auto industry is making lots of electric vehicles now, as if they don’t foreign cars will eat their lunch. Renewable energy need not be wide-scale to be effective. This scares utilities, which is why they are so concerned on pricing of bought back surplus solar and wind energy.. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When you wrote “96% of Congress now supports both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has passed the Senate and the “human infrastructure” bill that will need to be passed by budget reconciliation,” did you mean 96% of Democrats?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As usual, I feel like I learn so much more from you than I could from any news report or politics class. It really is shameful that they’re fighting such an important bill. It clearly seems like the most reasonable solution which could help the economy and lots of American people. It truly is a shame.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey, there, Annie. Thanks for the solid look at where we are today. I am in favor of the long game, and setting aside one’s specific agenda points to assure the political control so that we can take a measured, balanced approach to moving our country forward. There’s too much nail biting in my view, too many slugfests, too much nasty, stupid stuff. Frustrating and even, on fraught days, demoralizing. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on. I’m told we have 4,000 weeks in an average life — and how many of those are spent fending off power hungry lunatics, pushing forward reasonable voices, and we hope, we hope, preserving the earth? At my age, it’s more like 500 weeks left and so much work to do. Thanks for your work. Voice of reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with David Rothkopf’s criticism of the media’s characterization of “Dems in Disarray.” I have also seen provocative adjectives including frantic and hectic used to describe the Democrats political activities, but little criticism of Republican intransigence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think “intransigence” is being charitable, whungerford. I think “malign obstruction” or worse. Complete refusal to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, to raise the debt ceiling—plus unwillingness to counter their colleagues who supported Jan 6 and continue to deny Biden’s legitimacy—they have ceased to function as a political party.

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  7. When Huey Long got elected in Louisana he pushed for a road paving bill ( at the time 90% of roads were dirt and gravel) the legislature under conservative/reactionary control only passed enough for something like 100 or 200 miles of road with the accepted assumption they would all be used around New Orlean and Baton Rouge.
    What Huey did was have at least a mile of road paved in every parish and the main access roads.
    People saw the advantage and in next election swept in a massive majority of Huey’s allies.
    If only
    a) the D’s could come up with comparable plan ( free internet, clean water and community college in every third congressional district?)
    and
    b) Ensure a pr campaign that ensures people know who did this for them with a campaign of candinates running on promise to expand the program across country.
    Of course states like Alaska, Utah and most of Texas and Kentucky get nothing as a reward for their intransigience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting comment, anynameleft. Not sure about the wrangling that would determine the third district, though. The bill does have lots of good things, like free community college, and I think it’s good that President Biden plans to travel around selling it to the public over the next few weeks.

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      1. Pick districts with D rep’s or sizable disenfranchised populations.
        Or
        Put out menu for districts each district gets one but only if any thuglicans representing districts ask politely after publicly and loudly stating they opposed what they are asking for.

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  8. Thanks again, Annie, for another excellent and important piece. I won’t even talk about the Republicans in Congress, who seem bent on only obstructing what President Biden’s trying to do. It seems many members of both parties (even Republicans) want the infrastructure bill. As for the reconciliation bill, what ever happened to the idea of compromise? I think that’s the only way to get it passed in some fashion, and the 2’1 Trillion dollar figure that’s been talked about is still a lot of money! My biggest worry is that nothing will be passed, and that that may lead to the worst outcome imaginable–the reelection of Trump in 2024.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, George. Once again, we’re on the same page. I, too, worry that neither bill will pass, but I do think all the Democrats know what that would do to the party—and the country!

      Like

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