My mother used an old-timey expression while I was growing up, “Better than a sharp stick in the eye.” It’s meant to convey that while whatever you were receiving might not be what you hoped for, it was objectively better than, well, a sharp stick in the eye. I think of that expression often now as I survey our political landscape, and today in particular with President Biden’s announcement of a new $1.85 trillion “framework” for his Build Back Better bill, which offers Americans a slew of things only slightly better than a sharp stick in the eye.
That new number comes as the result of than Democrats’ demoralizing retreat from Biden’s original infrastructure bill, which was originally was priced at around $3.5 trillion over 10 years, after Sens. Joe Manchin (D-Hell) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Hieronymus Bosch hellscape), along with an ever-rotating cast of lower-profile congressional villains, have for weeks held any “spending” plan hostage. (Why, you ask? It’s all gotten a bit arcane, but Manchin has made clear he didn’t want to tax billionaires or do many other good things, and has balked at the price tag, while Sinema is essentially making Dems read her mind about what she actually wants, while making clear she wouldn’t vote for anything that costs $3.5 trillion.)
So where does that leave us? Here’s what got left on the cutting room floor in the new Biden bill, according to the New York Times (emphasis mine):
President Biden met with lawmakers on Thursday morning to lay out a framework on a $1.85 trillion effort to spend heavily on climate change, child care and a wide range of other economic programs, paid for by an estimated $2 trillion in tax increases on corporations and high earners, though it was not immediately clear if it has the votes to pass.
The framework leaves out several key planks of the economic agenda that Mr. Biden laid out on the campaign trail and shortly after taking office. It does nothing to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors, and it omits what would have been the nation’s first federally guaranteed paid family and medical leave for workers. It does not include free community college for all, as Mr. Biden had promised. It would expand Medicare coverage to include hearing, but not vision or dental services.
It also would not raise the corporate tax rate or the top individual income tax rate, and it would not impose a new tax on the unrealized wealth gains of billionaires, as Democrats had recently proposed.
Really inspiring stuff! So that’s actually in there? Here are the top lines, per the Times again (emphasis theirs):
$555 billion to fight climate change, largely through tax incentives for low-emission sources of energy.
$400 billion to provide universal prekindergarten to 3- and 4-year-olds, and to significantly reduce health care costs for working families earning up to $300,000 a year.
$200 billion to extend an expanded tax credit for parents through 2022, and to permanently allow parents to benefit from the child tax credit even if they do not earn enough money to have income tax liability.
Everyone loves….squints….squinting even harder……tax credits. Not on that list: paid family and medical leave. But here’s some context for those numbers:
Now let’s look to the two most closely watched people on Capitol Hill—the people for whom all these cuts were meant for in order to get them on board with the controversial notion of voting with their party. Do Manchin and Sinema even support this? Here’s Manchin’s stunning show of support so far:
And Sinema, for her part, put out a statement shortly before Biden started speaking about the plan saying that marks “significant progress” as the result of “months of productive, good-faith negotiations.” Notably omitted from the statement, of course, is whether she’ll vote for the damn thing.
In his address, Biden hailed the plan as “historic” multiple times. He also praised the plan for its “tax credits to help people weatherize their homes.” How fucking bleak is that?
“No one got everything they wanted, including me,” the president said. “That’s compromise, that’s consensus, that’s what I ran on.”
Indeed he did: Biden’s presidential campaign was starkly free of the mundane business of offering people anything as a reason to vote for you, and now he’s delivering on the promise.
And while Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressives have tried to hold out for additional social safety net provisions—or something, really anything more—from the deal, you can already see the ranks closing: After Biden spoke, Nancy Pelosi went into a meeting with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (After the meeting, Rep. Cori Bush told a Politico reporter she felt “bamboozled,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib said she’s a “hell no” vote on passing a separate infrastructure bill before the Build Back Better bill, but it’s clear that progressives are coming on board.) If Manchin and Sinema sign on, progressives will face a familiar gun-to-the-head scenario. Oh, what, you’re going to let the perfect be the enemy of good? You’re going to vote down tax credits because we dropped paid leave? Isn’t it enough that we got something, anything passed?
Democrats ask the people who voted for them to subsist on crumbs that fall from the table. They claim the ration is more than we got before and that that is a momentous achievement. And, what’s more, they insist we thank them for the privilege, put on a smile, and stop asking for more. Enough.
Fuck your crumbs. We want a feast.