Infrastructure and ‘Build Back Better’: Democrats’ ‘Do or Die’ Moment

Democrats have a day to prove they are capable of delivering on President Joe Biden’s campaign promise of “building back better.”

If they fail, they risk a republican rout in next year’s mid-term elections and possibly the White House in 2024.

On Thursday, House Democrats are planning to vote on the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

However, members of the Progressive Caucus are threatening to “hold the line” against it if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refuses to simultaneously hold a vote for the “Build Back Better Act,” the $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill that expands social safety net and combats climate change.

People’s Watch and Sunrise Movement activists have been demonstrating in D.C. this week to lean on Pelosi and other Democrats to pass the measure through reconciliation, a budgetary maneuver designed to avoid a filibuster.

The exigency is so serious, President Biden canceled a trip to Illinois in order to continue negotiations.

Each bill is significant, and each promises to transform our economy and infrastructure in ways not seen since President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs of the 1930s.

David Dayen, The American Prospect executive editor, described the Build Back Better Act as “the Democratic platform,” explaining on Democracy Now!:

“It has $550 billion of new spending on infrastructure over eight years, and that includes things like highways and bridges and broadband and the electric grid and resiliency from the ravages of climate change, and a few other things.”

He added:

“It’s at about half the level of what Joe Biden proposed when he put out the American Jobs Plan back in March. So, it’s kind of a half-measure. It was negotiated by Democrats and Republicans, and it’s seen as a must-have for the conservative end of the Democratic Caucus.”

It provides a major incentive to purchase electric vehicles (EV) as it offers up a tax credit of up to $12,500 per vehicle and allocates $13.5 billion for EV infrastructure, including installing more public charging stations.

Healthcare would also get a boost.

Medicare would expand to cover dental, vision, and hearing benefits, currently only available to seniors with private insurance.

Drug prices, including that for insulin, would drop, and seniors’ out-of-pocket costs would fall under a new price cap.

Millions of low-income American living in republican-led states that refused to expand Medicaid would have access to free healthcare.

Overall heath costs would decline, allow more people access to hospital and doctors.

Then there’s the impact on education.

Lower income families would receive free daycare.

Subsidies for middle-class households would save the average family $14,800 a year since they wouldn’t have to pay more than 7% of their income for care of children under age five.

Two years of preschool and community college would be free.

Pell grants would be expanded.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) would get some long-overdue funding.

Families would also enjoy 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for sick family members.

$400 billion would be allocated for elder care.

Broadband would also get a boost to improve people’s ability to work from home.

Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan told Axios:

 “This kind of bill does have the potential to improve the lives of Americans for generations.”

The original reconciliation package Sen. Bernie Sanders originally proposed when first assuming his office as Chairman of Senate Budget Committee was $6 trillion, which was whittled down to its current $3.5 trillion.

None of its cost would come from average Americans’ pockets.

As Sen. Sanders stated:

“This entire package would not add to the deficit and would be paid for by demanding that the wealthiest people in our country and large, profitable corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.”

Former President Barack Obama, a supporter of Build Back Better, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America:”

“I think they can afford it. We can afford it. I put myself in this category now. You’re talking about us stepping up and spending money on providing childcare tax credits, making those permanent to help families, who for a long time, have needed help.

“You’re looking at making our infrastructure function more efficiently. You’re talking about rebuilding a lot of buildings, roads, bridges, ports so that they are fortified against climate change. And also, that we start investing in the kinds of energy efficiency that’s going to be required to battle climate change.”

Nancy Pelosi initially promised to hold a vote on both bills concurrently.

However, she has since instructed her caucus to the House should proceed with the infrastructure bill while the Senate wrangles over “Build Back Better.”

In a letter to Democrats on Tuesday, she wrote:

“The change in circumstance regarding the reconciliation bill has necessitated a change in our Build Back Better legislation but not in our values.”

Many progressive are labeling that a “betrayal.”

After inquiring input from the Progressive Caucus’s 96 members, Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington asserted:

“Progressives will vote for both bills, but a majority of our members will only vote for the infrastructure bill after the president’s visionary Build Back Better Act passes.”

Biden said on Monday:

“You know me, I’m a born optimist. We’re gonna get it done.”

Let’s hope so.

If Democrats can’t demonstrate real progressive improvements average Americans can see in their wallets, their schools, and their everyday lives, republicans will go into the midterms accusing them of “doing nothing.”

Even though that isn’t remotely true, they will exploit the 1,500 right-wing hate media talk radio stations across the country, including several hundred Spanish-language ones, to convince their base Democrats have not helped them.

We can’t let that happen.

Call your members of Congress — republican and especially Democrat — at 202–224–3121, and demand he or she vote for both bills.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.