Many progressives are unhappy with President Joe Biden’s scaled-down version of the Build Back Better Act, his signature spending bill. Democrats had already cut their original plan in half, to $3.5 trillion; the new framework, announced on Thursday, cuts it in half again, to less than $2 trillion. Biden thinks he can get Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the two Democrats who rejected bigger versions of the package, on board with this version. With razor-thin margins in both chambers of Congress, Biden can’t afford any defections on the left. But if you’re one of the disappointed progressives, here’s why you should take the deal.
1. Everything in it is good. It’s really that simple. We’re not talking about balancing good provisions against bad ones. We’re talking about how much good stuff you’ll get. The plan doesn’t fund Medicare coverage for dental work, for instance, but it does fund Medicare coverage for hearing. It doesn’t offer the originally proposed $400 billion for home-based care, but it does offer $150 billion. It doesn’t pay for free community college, but it does massively subsidize child care and universal pre-K. There’s no downside.
2. The left has used its leverage. Progressive lawmakers held up the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the Senate had already passed, to pressure Manchin, Sinema, and House Democratic centrists to support the BBB plan. They laid out their demands and forced the centrists to negotiate. The centrists have now clarified their limits. Take it or leave it.
3. You can come back for more later. This isn’t the last spending bill Congress will pass. And while normal bills can be filibustered, that barrier can be circumvented through budget reconciliation. So you can try again for the dental coverage, the community college funding, and other items. You can also raise the corporate tax rate, which Sinema refused to do. It’s still sitting there at a low 21 percent. Manchin is willing to raise it to 25 percent. That’s an extra revenue source that Democrats, with one more vote, could tap in the future.
4. Some of what’s in the bill can’t wait. It’s true that many people will suffer because they need help that isn’t funded in this plan. But on the one thing that absolutely can’t wait—controlling greenhouse gas emissions—the plan keeps the vast majority of what was in the larger version. Progressives have argued for years that we have to move quickly to save the planet. So let’s start with these climate provisions, and we can add more later.
5. The package is bigger than it looks. The BBB debate is completely warped by panic among Democrats that they’ll never have power again. They think they have to cram a decade’s worth of spending into one bill. They don’t. Many of the cuts in the package are just reductions in the time frame. Under this legislation, for instance, the expanded Child Tax Credit would be authorized only through 2022. That’s a zero percent compromise for the next year. Why not just come back in a year and try to extend it?
6. Some of the omitted ideas can stand on their own. Biden wanted to let the government negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to drive down drug prices. A handful of Democratic centrists said no, so that idea has been dropped from the package. But it’s still overwhelmingly popular, with 75 percent support among all voters and nearly 70 percent support among Republican voters. You don’t have to stall the whole package over such proposals. You can rally the public to pass them later.
7. You can elect lawmakers who will vote for bigger plans. The Democratic Party is big and diverse. In the BBB debate, from left to right, Manchin and Sinema are the 49th and 50th senators in that coalition. Instead of grousing about what they won’t accept, you’re better off working to elect more Democrats, so that Manchin and Sinema are the 51st and 52nd senators in the coalition. They’ll agree with you on some things but not others, and it won’t make or break you.
8. The time-limited proposals are good campaign issues. Next year, when the expanded Child Tax Credit approaches its expiration, you can tell voters that they’re about to lose it unless they elect more Democrats. And in 2024, as the expanded health insurance subsidies approach their expiration, you can deliver the same pitch. Time-limited programs aren’t the best way to make policy, but they fit the democratic process. You can launch a program, demonstrate that it’s working, and ask voters to renew it.
9. We’re lucky to be where we are. In the November election, Republicans locked down 50 Senate seats. They outpolled Democrats for a 51st seat and had the advantage of incumbency in the race for a 52nd seat, both of which went to runoffs in Georgia. Mitch McConnell was firmly on track to remain in power as Senate majority leader. Then Donald Trump miraculously intervened. For the next two months, Trump made himself and his lies about the election the biggest issue in the country. He convinced many right-wing voters in Georgia that their ballots didn’t matter, and he scared moderates and progressives into turning out for the two Democratic nominees, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. That’s why, instead of begging McConnell for crumbs, you’re negotiating with Manchin and Sinema over trillions in new spending. Cheer up.