Infrastructure Bills Got You Confused? Not Anymore Suckers, We Will Vox Splainer You!
As was expected much of yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided not to hold a vote on the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) last night, because progressive House members held firm in their insistence they won't approve the BIF until passage of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, which contains the greater part of President Joe Biden's agenda. Does this mean disaster for Joe Biden? Heck nah, it means that negotiations are still going on over what exactly will be included in Build Back Better, and what the total price tag of the final bill will be.
CBS News reports that as Pelosi left the Capitol building in the wee hours of this morning,
she continued to say there would be a vote "today." She also told reporters that progressives and moderates, who have been arguing about the cost of the social safety net spending, are "not trillions of dollars apart."
And if the definition of "today" happens to last through early next week, let's not get too worried, either. Pelosi knows what she's doing — House Democrats are ready to vote on their version of Build Back Better, so now it's largely a matter of figuring out how to get the two Senate Democratic holdouts, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, on board with some presumably smaller version of Build Back Better.
Just a quick review, in case you haven't been following every bit of this like a big old politics nerd: The reason Biden's agenda is split into two chunks in the first place is that conservative Democrats in both houses — especially Manchin — wanted to have at least some part of the bill that could be passed with Republican support. That's how the BIF came to be; it includes physical infrastructure stuff like roads, bridges, and water pipes, plus broadband infrastructure and some measures that will address climate, like electric vehicle recharging stations.
The far larger Build Back Better Act includes most of the other good stuff Biden was elected on: measures to start transitioning to a clean energy economy, child care, universal pre-K, paid family and medical leave, two years of free community college, assistance with adult caregiving, larger premium subsidies for Obamacare, and an extension of the enhanced Child Tax Credit. It's all paid for with a number of tax increases on the richest Americans and on corporations. Since Republicans hate everything good and just, the package will pass through the reconciliation process, allowing Democrats to avoid a filibuster. But all 50 Senate Dems have to vote for it (plus a tie-breaking vote by VP Kamala Harris), which is why Manchin and Sinema have to be brought on board.
From the get-go, the two packages were meant to be passed together; progressives in both houses only agreed to the bipartisan infrastructure chunk on the condition that the reconciliation bill would be passed as well. Was Build Back Better passed before the planned vote on BIF last night? It was not, and so, no vote.
Now, when Pelosi said the gap between progressives and moderates isn't actually in the "trillions of dollars," we hope she was including Manchin and Sinema, because as we learned yesterday, Manchin had been pretty insistent in a late July document that he was willing to support no more that $1.5 trillion in Build Back Better. Worse, he envisioned all the safety net improvements as being only for low-income people, which sucks because if the programs aren't helping the middle class, they won't have nearly the same improvement in as many people's lives, and they'll be vulnerable to repeal since they'll be depicted as "welfare." Manchin also weirdly called for any subsidies for clean energy to be matched with benefits for fossil fuels, which kind of negates any reductions in carbon emissions. Read the damn science, Joe.
But again, at the risk of reading too much into a single line, if the sides aren't "trillions" apart, it's possible Manchin may be a bit more flexible on some of this. A spox for Sinema also said yesterday that she had shared her specific top-line budget and policy preferences with Biden and with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer back in August, although she hasn't said a word about any of that in public.
Here's the thing: We're far less worried about this than we were yesterday when we saw the details of Manchin's July demands. We now know that, even if Sinema's position isn't yet public, Biden and Democratic leadership at least know what she and Manchin are asking for, which hadn't been clear until yesterday. And as MSNBC's Chris Hayes pointed out last night, compared to other times Democrats have had a huge policy agenda up for a vote, it's kind of a relief that there are only two holdouts, as compared to the 2010 climate bill, which fell apart because there were far bigger rifts between progressives and moderates.
Also too, to his credit, Joe Manchin had a pretty cordial conversation yesterday with a bunch of West Virginians who came to press him on Build Back Better — by paddling up to his houseboat in kayaks and boats. Here, have some video!
🚨BREAKING: Tonight, @Sen_JoeManchin emerged from his yacht for some real talk with the West Virginians who’ve been… https://t.co/BTYdfjqgG8— CPD Action (@CPD Action) 1633047618.0
The kayaktivists made some pretty good points, noting that if Democrats don't act now to provide real help for families, the Republicans may win in next year's midterms and they won't pass anything useful at all. One protester yelled "Tax the rich!" and Manchin said that's what he wants to do, too (and it's true — at least for the top individual tax rate, but not other taxes).
We particularly liked this protester, who had her notes ready on her phone — always a good way to avoid getting flustered! And thankfully, the video in the second tweet there has subtitles:
5/ With captions! @AngiKerns2 of West Virginia speaks to truth to power — and lands a meeting with Senator Manchin… https://t.co/JcupcFvIbz— CPD Action (@CPD Action) 1633050138.0
This fight isn't over by a long shot. Call your senators and your representative, kids. If they're Democrats, tell them to keep up the push for Build Back Better. And even if they're Republicans, call and let 'em know you're out there and expect better of them.
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