The second half of President Biden’s combined $4.1 infrastructure plan has finally landed, after a long and often aggravating first half of summer. A number of the details still have to be worked out and then announced. It is less than half of what progressives in Congress wanted, far more than most Republicans can abide, and detailed enough that “moderates” like Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Kyrsten Sinema will likely find places to gum up the works if they choose to.
Who knows, maybe that makes it a good bill. Once the details come out in full, it may be revealed as a great bill, one of three offered by the Biden administration to save the country from COVID, rebuild our infrastructure and bring some humanity back into government after more than 40 years of trickle-down cruelty. A triple-shot like this has never been attempted in my lifetime, much less achieved. If passed, it’s the kind of thing that can change a country, and Lord knows this country could use some change.
But it won’t be anything if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer fails to hold his caucus together when voting day arrives. All 50 Democratic and Dem-affiliated senators, plus Vice President Kamala Harris serving as President of the Senate, will be needed to pass this bill via reconciliation. They are aiming to get this done before the August recess, so buckle up.
“We are very proud of this plan,” said Schumer after it was announced. “We know we have a long road to go. We’re going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans’ lives a whole lot better.” Bernie Sanders, who initially sought a $6 trillion bill, said, “This is, in our view, a pivotal moment in American history.”
Despite the absence of key details such as how this legislation intends to confront climate change, what we do know of the bill so far is fairly impressive. It includes a large expansion of Medicare to include money for hearing, vision and dental coverage. House progressives wanted this in tandem with a lowering of the eligibility age, but that was left on the cutting room floor when Mark Warner warned the moderates would balk at the price, and the bill was pared down.
Politically speaking, emphasizing an expansion of Medicare was a savvy move. Medicare is perhaps the most popular, well-run government program in existence. Making it even better also makes it easier to pass the larger legislation, and furthermore makes it virtually impossible for Republicans to roll it back at some future juncture.
Manchin on Tuesday threw his first rock in the road, because of course he did. “I think everything should be paid for,” he told reporters. “We’ve put enough free money out.” While announcing the bill, both Schumer and Warner took pains to assuage Manchin’s complaints by saying the bill would be “robustly” paid for. That payment, according to Schumer, will be carried by the wealthiest among us; taxes for those making less than $400,000 a year will not be raised.
The specter of a tax on the wealthy drew the ire of the Beast of Bedminster. “Republicans in the U.S. Senate must not in any way, shape, or form increase taxes that were won in the TRUMP TAX CUT, the largest in the history of our Country,” said Donald Trump in a Tuesday statement. “It’s what made our economy grow and great.”
Speaking personally, clawing back some of the trillion-and-a-half Trump gave away to rich people back in 2017 is one of my favorite parts of this bill. Fixing that by way of taxes to fund these worthy public endeavors would go a long way toward scourging Trump’s fetid legacy from government.
You’ve heard the saying about laws and sausages? You never want to see how either are made. We are entering that phase of the operation, and arms will be twisted up into the ceiling fans if this thing has a prayer of passing. We will see if Biden’s epoch in the Senate will serve him as a negotiator now that the rubber has met the road.
“With no votes to spare in the Senate and only four in the House (soon to be three, with Republicans expected to win a runoff in Texas), President Joe Biden heads to the Senate today to begin the hard work of whipping the party in line behind the Democrat-only deal,” reports Politico. “He got a head start when Budget Chair Bernie Sanders endorsed the deal, even as the Vermont independent spent much of the first part of the Democrats’ presser looking at his shoes.”
Cute snark there, Politico. Sanders sure didn’t sound like a sad little shoe-gazer at the presser. Calling the bill “the most significant piece of legislation since the Great Depression,” Sanders went on to say, “The wealthy and large corporations are going to start paying their fair share of taxes, so that we can protect the working families of this country. What this legislation does is says we’re going to create millions of good-paying union jobs rebuilding this country not only from physical infrastructure, but dealing with the human needs of our people which are many, and which have long been neglected.”
I’ll buy that for $4 trillion. There is a lot of road between now and final passage of these bills, and notoriously terrible economist Larry Summers just met with Biden at the White House to bemoan the terrors of inflation. If Summers gets in Biden’s ear about that, it’s entirely possible the president himself could reach out to shave down his own bills. As I said, there’s a lot of road left.