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Fri Nov 19, 2021, 07:07 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Build Back Better Moves To Senate

A lot actually happened in the political world this week, but the two things that will be remembered most of all were a pair of bookend Biden agenda advancements. The week started off with a bill-signing ceremony -- with Republicans in attendance, even -- as President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill into law.

Which seems a good place to insert a sad note, since like many Americans, we first learned about the process which culminates with a bill becoming a law in the immortal Schoolhouse Rock video "I'm Just A Bill." But while this piece of Americana will indeed live forever, the man who wrote the song passed away this week. So Requiescat In Pace Dave Frishberg, and thanks for the memories!

This week, Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill made it triumphantly to the end of the "I'm Just A Bill" process and is now law. This was a monumental achievement for the president, because it is the second leg of his "three-legged stool" of an economic agenda. The first passed soon after he took office: the pandemic-relief "American Rescue Plan Act." The second was the infrastructure bill Biden signed into law Monday. And the third is the Build Back Better bill that was just passed this morning by House Democrats. Not a single Republican voted for it -- a fact which Democrats should absolutely hammer them over in next year's midterm campaigns.

This was also a monumental achievement, even if it did take far longer than it needed to. Biden proposed both the infrastructure plan and what's in the Build Back Better bill in April, after all. That's a lot of time to make legislative sausage, but we are at least approaching the finish line. And (with apologies to vegetarians) at this point it looks like some pretty tasty legislative sausage indeed.

Build Back Better now goes to the Senate. Progressive Democrats in the House have essentially washed their hands of any responsibility for getting Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on board, and left that task to Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer (and all the other Democrats in the Senate). No longer will disagreements between House "centrists" and progressives feed the headlines -- instead it now all comes down to what the two recalcitrant Democratic senators will do.

Manchin, at least, now seems on board with getting the bill passed by Christmas. The Senate's got a lot of other things to do in the meantime, and the Build Back Better bill still has some hurdles to clear before the Senate will even hold a vote on it. The parliamentarian will weigh in with an opinion about what can be included in such a budget reconciliation bill, and then there will inevitably be changes made to the House version of the text.

Primarily, this will mean things getting removed, at the insistence of either Sinema or Manchin. Manchin, for instance, is against guaranteeing even a measly four weeks paid time off for workers to care for a newborn baby or a seriously ill family member. This is almost inexplicable, because out of all the policies Democrats tried to include in the Build Back Better bill, paid family leave either ranked the most popular or very near the top of the list. And yet Manchin is against it, so it might not survive even in this stingy form (initially it was supposed to guarantee 12 weeks off). Sadly, that is just one example -- there are other programs that might also have to be cut to get these two necessary votes to pass the bill.

All Democrats not named "Sinema" or "Manchin" have already had to mourn "what might have been" over certain aspects of the bill (as when Joe Biden had to jettison the tuition-free community college idea), but hopefully enough good ideas will make it into the Senate version for it still to be one of the most historic legislative achievements in modern American history.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (although perhaps a better title for him these days might be "House Minority Extremist-Follower Kevin McCarthy" ) decided to hold his own little petulant temper tantrum, by giving what could be the longest speech in the history of the House of Representatives (clocking in at over eight hours long). During this overnight display of logorrhea, at one point McCarthy claimed (without a shred of proof, just like the mountain of other lies he was spewing) that "nobody elected Joe Biden to be F.D.R.," to which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez immediately shot back: "I did!" At least one other Democrat also voiced support for the concept with a cry of: "Me too!"

McCarthy may think he knows what over 80 million American voters were thinking when they entered the voting booth, but no matter what ridiculous storyline the Republicans are now pushing, Joe Biden may very well go down in history right next to such legislative heavyweights as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. That's how big a deal Biden's entire economic agenda truly is. In fact, we are devoting our entire Talking Points segment of the program today just to run down in detail exactly what made it in to the final House version of the Build Back Better bill, which passed at 9:46 this morning by a vote of 220-213.

Republicans are downright terrified of this bill, for two reasons -- neither one of which they will ever admit publicly. The first is that they had all convinced themselves that it was never going to happen. They were celebrating when the House progressives threw in the towel and agreed to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, because they thought that it meant Build Back Better was dead. Now they are left with the hopes that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will refuse to vote for anything in the Senate, but today's passage of the bill through the House is going to put enormous pressure on them to agree to something before the end of the year. Which means it is now looking more likely than not that the Build Back Better bill will arrive on Joe Biden's desk as a huge Christmas present (from him to the American people, really).

The second reason Republicans are terrified of this bill is that they know full well when average Americans actually unwrap that present, they are going to like what it contains and be very happy about it all. Up until now, Republicans have done a masterful job of manipulating the media into talking about anything other than what was actually in the bill, but hopefully those days are at an end. And pretty much every single component piece of the Build Back Better bill is wildly popular -- and will become even more so when it all becomes reality.

No Republican is going to vote for it. This is not just a transformative piece of legislation, it is now the de facto Democratic platform for the 2022 midterm elections and even the 2024 presidential contest. "This is what Democrats did for you -- and what Republicans fought against. If you elect us, we will continue and build on these popular programs, but if you elect Republicans they will kill them." That's a pretty easy choice, obviously.

All it will require is for Democrats to actually sell the ideas. Which, of course, is a gigantic weak spot for the party. So it remains to be seen whether they'll be successful at touting the benefits to millions upon millions of Americans, or whether the Republicans will somehow demonize the whole thing they way they did with Obamacare for so long.

Still, this week meant more for the future of the Democratic Party than any other week since Joe Biden was sworn into office. The bookend events of signing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and passing the Build Back Better bill in the House will define the party's agenda for years to come.

In fact, it was such a momentous and historic week that all else that took place in the political world paled in comparison (including even a House member being censured and stripped of his committee memberships). So we're not even going to bother with our usual rundown of all the idiocies coming from the Republican side of the aisle. We're just in too good a mood this week, sorry.





Before we get to the main award, we have to at least give a nod to two House members for their amusing tweets. As Kevin McCarthy droned on and on and on in the House, Representative Jamie Raskin noted: "McCarthy thinks he is a wit but so far he has proved he is only half right." Adam Schiff was even more droll, tweeting:

If you took the worst orator in the world

Gave him the worst speech in the world

And made him read it for the longest time in the world

That would be a lot like listening to Kevin McCarthy tonight.

Except, probably better.


Maybe we need to add a "Most Amusing Democratic Tweet Of The Week" feature here?

More seriously, however, Vice President Kamala Harris made some history ("herstory"?) this week, as she became the only woman ever to serve as Acting President Harris. She led the country for 85 minutes, while Joe Biden was under anesthesia for a colonoscopy. Not a very long time, obviously, but certainly a long time coming and "About time!" too. She earns an Honorable Mention for her historic hour and a half in charge of the nation.

But President Joe Biden was easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week, as he advanced two of his three big legislative priorities in one week's time. This was also a rather long time coming, since Biden had introduced his legislative ideas over six months ago.

But one of them crossed the finish line this week, and one of them is now about halfway there. If it also makes it to Biden's desk by the end of the year, it will have been one of the most transformative years in American history in Washington.

The final success of Build Back Better is really all going to be up to Biden, though. Nobody else has any leverage at all when it comes to convincing the two holdouts in the Senate to finally agree to something or another -- that much is obvious. So while there are certainly many other Democrats who rightfully deserve a share of the credit for getting Build Back Better as far as it has already come, in the end it's going to be a measure of Biden's leadership whether it too crosses the finish line.

As you will see in the Talking Points part of the program today, it's hard to call this bill anything but transformative. Free preschool. Child care and elder care subsidies. Health insurance subsidies. Improving both Medicare and Medicaid. A limit on the prices people pay for insulin. The start of the effort to rein in prescription drug prices. The continuation of the expansion of both the Child Tax Credit (those $300 checks in parents' mailboxes every month) and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The biggest investment in fighting climate change in American history. And that's just a very short list of the best points.

Maybe instead of squabbling over whether Biden was elected to be the new F.D.R., we should all just start calling him "J.R.B."? There are only a few presidents commonly referred to by their initials, all of whom were Democrats (unless you count the singular "Dubya," which we don't...) and all of whom were historic and memorable -- F.D.R., J.F.K., and L.B.J. Maybe we should just add J.R.B. to that list from now on... it seems entirely appropriate at this point, no matter what Kevin McCarthy has to say about it. Even if that doesn't happen, Biden will still have another Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to add to his collection.

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]





There was really only one Democrat who disappointed us this week. From an article on the Build Back Better bill passing:

Only one party lawmaker, Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), ultimately joined Republicans in opposing it.


Golden is from a tough district in Maine, but that's really no excuse. His stated reason for opposing the bill was the inclusion of a tax cut for people with high state and local taxes, which (to give him credit) would indeed go mostly to the wealthiest Americans -- the exact opposite of what the Democratic Party is supposed to be doing. In fact, we wrote about the whole problem at more length yesterday.

But unlike Representative Golden, we are confident that the Senate will fix this problem. Bernie Sanders already seems committed to doing so, arguing that it is "bad policy and bad politics." We have to agree. There's a very easy fix to the problem, and that is to only make it applicable for people making below a certain level of income ($200,000 and $400,000 have both been proposed as a ceiling). Golden, obviously, doesn't trust that the Senate will indeed fix the problem, or he is just scared of attack ads against him over the issue.

But to use this as a reason to vote against the entire bill seems pretty drastic, to us. Nobody gets everything they want in a bill, and this was the crucial vote. So while we actually do agree with Golden on the issue, we still were disappointed enough in his vote for him to win this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Representative Jared Golden on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]




Volume 642 (11/19/21)

This week we found it impossible to come up with just seven discrete talking points. Finally the political conversation has shifted from the idiocy of only paying attention to the overall cost of the Build Back Better bill, or the seemingly-eternal "Democrats In Disarray" stories. Finally (finally!) the only thing left to talk about is what is in the bill.

Which all Democrats should start doing, immediately. From politicians down to supporters around the office water cooler, it is absolutely imperative to inform the public of what this bill will do. The Republicans have yet to directly attack any provision that is actually in the bill (although they have spent a lot of time and money attacking things that are not actually in the bill, of course). All they seem to have come up with to oppose the bill is to yell: "Socialism!" or "Communism!" as loudly as possible, in the hopes that it will scare people into somehow not believing that having insulin patients only have to pay $35 a month to survive is actually a good thing.

That's their problem in a nutshell -- what is actually in the bill is wildly popular with the public, because it does so much for so many Americans. Joe Biden wanted to be a transformative president, and if this bill makes it through the Senate and onto his desk, he will have achieved that lofty goal.

So we've compiled a list of all the things the Build Back Better bill will do. Call it a "make your own talking points" kit. The list is a little long, because there are just so many things contained in this bill. The sources for this list are a similar list in the Washington Post and a more exhaustive list from the New York Times. We've even condensed things a bit -- we counted 72 separate spending line-items in the Times list, for comparison.

We did not include how the bill will be paid for. That's a whole other set of talking points, but can be summed up pretty quickly. The bill is fully paid for, unlike the bipartisan infrastructure bill that many Republicans voted for. The bill taxes the rich, instituting a "millionaires' tax" for people making over $10 million per year (which even goes up for those making over $25 million per year). It will forever end the disgraceful ability of corporations to pay zero in federal taxes, by instituting a minimum 15 percent rate no matter how many write-offs they come up with. So we'll never see "Amazon Paid No Taxes This Year!" headlines, ever again. All of these tax proposals are wildly popular, even among Republicans, it is worth pointing out.

But let's get to what Build Back Better will actually do. While the right-wingers howl "Communism!" to their heart's content, here are the many ways such nonsense can easily be countered by Democrats:



Health Care

Extension of subsidies for people buying health insurance through the Obamacare marketplaces (which began as a result of Biden's American Rescue Plan, early this year).

Allowing low-income people in the few states that refused to expand Medicaid to buy Obamacare marketplace health insurance policies without paying monthly premiums. This does an end-run around Republican-led states' refusal to provide health care for poorer working Americans.

Money for community programs for pregnant women and people with disabilities.

Money for community services for older people, for pandemic preparedness, to combat maternal mortality, to expand access to healthcare for pregnant and postpartum women, and for Medicaid in U.S. territories as well as Native Hawaiian health systems.

Medicare patients will now be covered for hearing aids. Unfortunately, dental and vision coverage did not make it into the final bill, but at least this is a start.

A $35 a month cap on out-of-pocket costs for insulin, to make this life-saving medicine affordable once again. Also provides for no-cost vaccines.

Drug prices may come down (for at least a handful of drugs, at least for people on Medicare). This could have been a lot better, unfortunately, but it at least gives something to build on in the future to attack the problem of outrageously high prices for prescription drugs.

Money for in-home and community-based home healthcare services under Medicaid, as well as other alternatives to nursing homes.

An increase in money for states who create a plan for strengthening and expanding their own elder-care services.



Children

Universal free preschool for all 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. This is the largest expansion in public education since the creation of public high schools roughly a century ago. Two full years of free school will help millions of parents get back into the workforce.

Families that earn less than $300,000 will only have to spend (up to) seven percent of their income on child care. This will also enormously help working parents, and will be a dramatic change for the entire child care industry. The bill also has subsidies for child care centers and requires higher pay for teachers.

Another year of the Child Tax Credit, which has been putting checks into parents' mailboxes since July (the program was also begun by the American Rescue Plan, but had only until the end of this year before it ran out). Up to $300 per child per month in parents' pockets has lifted millions of children above the poverty line.

Expansion of eligibility for free school meals for children as well as summer meal benefits as well.

An increase in Pell grants for low-income students to attend college. Financial assistance for historically Black, tribal, and other minority-serving institutions. Financial aid for DACA students.



Families

Currently, four weeks of paid family leave is in the bill, but Joe Manchin does not approve of this program (despite it being wildly popular with the public) so it may not survive in the Senate version.

An expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for one more year.

Funding for worker training, employment services, re-entry programs, and apprenticeships.

Aid for families, farmers, and manufacturers affected by international competition.

Small business support, including underrepresented communities.



Climate Change

Tax breaks for companies and consumers to install solar panels, improve energy efficiency in buildings, and buy electric vehicles. Middle-class families could save $12,500 on buying an electric car, for instance. Also tax credits for electric bicycles.

Incentives for companies making wind turbines and other green energy equipment to build factories in America and hire Union employees.

Also, money to reduce air pollution and restore forests. Tax credits for green manufacturing.

Money to electrify the federal fleet of vehicles, which includes the Postal Service.



Infrastructure

Picks up a few items that were cut from the bipartisan infrastructure bill Biden signed into law this week, adding in spending on high-speed rail.

Money for public transit near affordable housing, and to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency.

Money to replace lead pipes, and to fix sewer and stormwater systems.

Rural development and farm aid in the form of water, energy, soil conservation, reducing soil carbon, and assistance for farm loan borrowers.

Funds for coastal communities, as well as national parks and other public lands.

Manufacturing supply chain improvements.

Money for regional innovation hubs.



Housing

The largest infusion of federal money for housing in history begins with housing assistance for low-income Americans, including housing vouchers to help people afford rent.

Funds to repair and replace public housing, and for the housing trust fund to expand the stock of affordable housing.

Housing investments in Native American communities.



{A final quick program note, to end on. There will be no Friday Talking Points column next week, as it will be the day after Thanksgiving and we will be doing good just to haul ourselves out of bed that morning. We'll be back the week after, however. Have a happy holiday weekend, everyone!}




Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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Reply Friday Talking Points -- Build Back Better Moves To Senate (Original post)
ChrisWeigant Friday OP
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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Nov 19, 2021, 08:03 PM

1. Great post, my dear ChrisWeigant!

Careful, thorough analysis and detailed too.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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