To the Editor: The intraparty fight over President Biden's $3.5-trillion "Build Back Better Act" is reason enough why the Democratic Party needs more progressives elected to the Senate and House. The proposed legislation is a modest effort over 10 years to address class, race and gender inequalities that have left behind, alienated and angered tens of millions of Americans. The new social-spending programs are a centerpiece of his agenda, and a way to show the public that government can improve their lives.
A major aim of the legislation is to reduce the cost of living for housing, education and health care. It provides: child care, elder and disability subsidies, paid family and medical leave, a four-year extension of the child tax credit, expansion of Medicare and Medicaid which includes lower prescription drug costs for seniors and additional subsidies for the ACA, universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, expansion of Pell Grants, money for black institutions of higher learning, help for workers to form unions, and a strong global leadership role in fighting corporate tax evasion. It also addresses the need to replace fossil fuels, with what would be the largest climate bill ever passed by Congress.
The cost of these programs would be offset by increased taxes on the rich and corporations, which have long avoided paying their fair share. At the same time, there would be tax cuts for the poor and middle class.
The passage of the "Build Back Better Act", however, is threatened by a small number of corporate Democrats. Their criticisms do not hold up to scrutiny. First, the bill is not radical. It does not include Medicare-for-All or single-payer, a Green New Deal, or a wealth tax.
Second, the cost is not excessive, averaging $350 billion a year. The actual cost "after next savings and new revenue" would be considerably less than $3.5 trillion (a result of investing in people, which promotes higher economic growth).
Senator Manchin, who claims the legislation would change "our whole society to an entitlement mentality," has demanded that it cost no more than $1.5 trillion. The original proposal was $6 trillion and the Economic Policy Institute concluded that $10 trillion was needed. President Biden told progressives that they should expect a compromise bill somewhere around $2 trillion. This would be only one-fifth of what is probably necessary.
Third, Congress would not be adding to the national debt: the tax increases would pay for the legislation. Fourth, conservative Democrats say they are concerned about whether the bill is fiscally responsible. Yet three of their House colleagues voted with Republicans to kill the President's proposal to have Medicare negotiate lower prices with Big Pharma. This would have lowered drug costs for the government and American families.
The public good reflected in this bill should transcend narrow interests, whether from political contributors or from their perceived voter bases.
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