Three Washington Democrats at the Center of Crafting Bill to “Fundamentally Reshape the US Economy”
Orion Donovan-Smith / The Revue Spokesman
WASHINGTON – Three Washington lawmakers are at the center of a debate among Democrats that will decide the fate of the ambitious national platform they campaigned on in 2020 – and possibly the party’s fortunes in 2022.
Senator Patty Murray was central in crafting the Build Back Better Act, which would raise taxes on big business and wealthier Americans to pay for a range of social programs aimed at lowering the cost of living for the rest. of the country, including improving health. subsidized daycares and a tuition-free community college.
“It’s going to be a really big deal,” Murray said in an interview. “We’re going to fundamentally reshape the U.S. economy so that we can level the playing field for working families, and we can do that by making sure the richest and biggest companies pay their fair share, so that everything the world can succeed. “
But before they can do that, Democrats must reduce legislation costing $ 3.5 trillion to a figure closer to $ 2,000 billion to appease two centrist senators.
This reality presents them with a difficult choice: fund all the programs they promised voters, but for only a few years, or abandon parts of the bill to fund their main longer-term priorities.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, who represents most of Seattle and chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, argued for the first option. In an interview, she said that because the provisions of the bill are intended to help different groups of people – expanding Medicare coverage for the elderly, for example, and cutting costs for students – dropping entire programs would be tantamount to to break promises made to voters.
Representative Suzan DelBene, whose district stretches from the Seattle suburb to the Canadian border, leads the moderate New Democrat coalition and advocated the “less, longer” approach. If Republicans take control of the House or Senate next year, she said in an interview, they could let programs expire with short-term funding before they see their full impact.
The Progressive Caucus and the New Democrats each have 95 members in the House, equally sharing the majority of the party’s slim 220-seat majority. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, struggled to take sides.
After writing in a letter to all House Democrats on Monday that his members “overwhelmingly” advised him to “do less things well so that we can still have a transformative impact,” Pelosi told reporters the next day, his party might have to opt for short-term funding and she hoped they wouldn’t give up any provisions.
After a late September standoff between progressives and centrist Democrats forced Pelosi to postpone a vote on the Build Back Better Act, the president set a deadline of October 31 to vote on both that legislation and the package. bipartite infrastructure that the Senate adopted in August.
But Murray, the third-tier Democrat in the upper house, called the deadline a “House-imposed mandate” and said she was focusing on getting “the best possible package, with the biggest investments in the things that are close to my heart “.
The challenge Murray, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders face is that each member of their party cares about different priorities.
After Biden laid out his broad agenda in two sets of proposals last spring – the US Jobs Plan and the US Family Plan – lawmakers turned them into two bills. But instead of dividing issues like the White House did, a group of moderate Democratic and Republican senators crafted provisions that could garner the 10 GOP votes needed to achieve the 60-vote majority needed to pass most of the votes. laws in the Senate.
This bipartisan bill was passed by the Senate – including $ 550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure – and with just one chance to get around a GOP obstruction in the Senate via budget rules Specials, Democrats piled the rest of Biden’s agenda into the Build Back Better Act.
The 50 Democratic senators must back a bill to use this annual process, known as budget reconciliation, and opposition to the Sens’s initial $ 3.5 trillion price tag. Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin forced the party to compromise on a lower number.
In its original form, the sprawling bill would provide two years of free community college, as well as additional funding for colleges through the Pell Grant program. It would guarantee a universal preschool and grants that ensure that no family spends more than 7% of its income on child care. It would expand Medicare to cover hearing, vision, and dental care, and expand Medicaid coverage in states that have not already done so under the Affordable Care Act.
It would extend the monthly child tax credit payments from $ 250 to $ 300 per child, which will expire at the end of the year, which Democrats have enacted as part of the 1 pandemic relief plan, $ 9 trillion they adopted in March. This would lower prescription drug prices, in part by letting Medicare negotiate prices for the first time, and guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave each year.
Other parts of the bill aim to tackle climate change, including tax incentives to encourage clean energy production and the adoption of electric vehicles. The sheer number of provisions posed a messaging challenge for Democrats: How do they explain it, let alone garner public support for a bill of this magnitude?
Murray, who chairs the Senate committee on health, education and work, said his top priorities are affordable child care, paid family time off, lower health care costs and provisions for fight against climate change.
“Of course everyone is standing up for what they feel the strongest for now,” Murray said, but stressed that none of that mattered unless they came up with a draft. law that the 50 Senate Democrats will vote for.
The NDP coalition has its own set of four-pronged priorities: expanding the child tax credit, creating jobs through economic development grants, ‘going big for the climate’ by reducing carbon emissions, and reducing health care costs by expanding Medicaid to cover more people and making the Medicare subsidies promulgated in the March relief bill permanent.
The Progressive Caucus put forward a broader set of priorities, including investing in affordable housing and the care economy, tackling climate change and reducing drug prices, using money saved by Medicare to scale up healthcare. health care.
Progressives also sought to include sweeping immigration reform in the bill, but the Senate parliamentarian – a sort of congressional arbiter – ruled that these changes fell outside the reconciliation process, which did not fall within the scope of the reconciliation process. applies only to budgetary provisions.
Democrats offered to pay for the new spending by reversing some of the tax cuts adopted by Republicans in 2017, when the GOP used the same budget reconciliation process to bypass the Democratic opposition.
Their plan would lower the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26%, still below the 35% rate that applied until 2018, with lower rates for companies making less than $ 10 million. dollars per year. It would tax capital gains at a higher rate, especially for people earning more than $ 5 million per year, and increase the tax rate for those earning at least $ 400,000 per year.
These proposals would generate roughly $ 2 trillion in revenue over 10 years, meaning that if Democrats choose to fund programs for just a few years, they’ll have to find other ways to generate revenue – or fund programs with it. borrowed money that increases the federal budget. deficit – but Jayapal said she isn’t worried about finding ways to pay for the programs.
“We are not suffering from a lack of resources on the income side,” she said. “We suffer from a lack of will to tax people fairly.”
The other downside to short-term funding, DelBene said, is that if Republicans gain control of the House or Senate in 2022 – a poll scenario and precedent suggest is likely – Democrats could be forced to watch parts of their bill expire before they have their full impact, “leaving a program halfway.”
“I think people want to see governance work,” DelBene said. “They want to see us make decisions and have a stable policy that they can count on.”
To make her point, DelBene cited the Child Tax Credit, which she played a leading role in transforming a benefit of $ 2,000 per child – available only to those earning enough. for owing so much federal taxes – in monthly payments totaling $ 3,000 to $ 3,600 per year for everyone except the wealthiest parents. A Columbia University study found that the first round of payments, sent in July, lifted 3 million children out of poverty, but predicted a far greater impact if the payments continued for years.
Meanwhile, Jayapal is in favor of implementing as many benefits as possible, in the hope that “people will understand that the government is supporting them and that we can consider expanding these programs later.”
“One of the crises of democracy we face is that people don’t believe the government is going to stand up for them,” she said. “The way to counter that is to show them that government can really do these things, and so we are heading to a place where voters really see the use of government.”
While she admitted her approach could allow Republicans to dismantle her priorities in a few years, Jayapal said she hoped the GOP would encounter the same problem they faced when they tried to repeal the law. on affordable care, a program that proved too popular to be canceled once Americans saw its benefits.
If Democrats don’t do everything the party has campaigned on, Jayapal said, “Then people are going to continue to not trust us because we promised something (and) we never kept. They gave us the House, the Senate and the White House, we still haven’t delivered. “
Despite their different approaches, Jayapal, DelBene, and Murray described the same goal: a federal government that more actively transfers the wealth of bigger corporations and wealthier Americans to make life easier for the rest of the nation.
“I want people to wake up in the morning and feel differently about their lives, their livelihoods and their opportunities,” Jayapal said. “I mean, knowing that the government has their backs and that they can live a life of dignity with opportunity and not suffer every day.”