Democrats appear to be banking on passing Pres. Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) package as their ticket to winning next year’s midterm elections. The House’s approval of the BBB Act on Friday does give the Democrats momentum toward that goal. Still, getting the bill through the Senate will be challenging. And, while I believe it will finally pass, the shrunken BBB Act by itself will most likely not give Democrats the huge boost they will need to maintain control of Congress in next year’s elections.
The good news for the Democrats is they have a great deal more to run on than the BBB Act. Last March they passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, the American Rescue Plan. That legislation provided needed help to tens of millions of people, reducing high levels of hardship, helping school districts address student learning loss, and bolstering the economy. Among other pluses, it expanded unemployment benefits, health coverage, child tax credits, food support and housing assistance. Despite all the hardship Americans were undergoing, not one Republican voted for this urgently needed relief act.
On top of that, the Democrats recently enacted a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. This legislation was critical to repairing and upgrading our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure. While some Republicans did support this bill, the vast majority of them turned their backs on our economy’s dire need for a solid, revamped infrastructure.
Assuming the BBB Act does become law, Biden and the Democrats will have pumped in close to $5 trillion dollars into the economy in one year. On top of that close to six million new jobs have been created and the unemployment rate is down to 4.6 percent.
Even with all these positives, the outlook for the Democrats is not good. Record inflation is hurting most people in their pocketbooks. The battle to control COVID is still raging. Americans are angry, fearful and have not been as divided since the Civil War. And Biden and the Democrats are receiving most of the blame. Less than 40 percent of the population approve of their performance. Haggling over the BBB package clearly has not helped them either.
For example, Sens. Sanders and Bennet take issue with the bill’s increase in the SALT (State and Local Taxes) cap deduction. They argue it’s another tax break for the wealthy and will cost the government billions of dollars. Sen. Sanders put it this way:
“You can’t be a political party that talks about demanding the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes and then end up with a bill that gives large tax breaks to many millionaires. You can’t do that. The hypocrisy is too strong. It’s bad policy, it’s bad politics.”
The Democrats’ struggle over raising the SALT cap exposes how vulnerable they will be in 2022 election and why they cannot rely on the BBB Act alone to get them over the finish line. As Sen. Sanders explained, it sends the wrong message to average Americans and gives the Republicans a great message to run on: “Democrats are the party of the rich.” Fortunately, the Democrats are working on a SALT cap compromise that will blunt this characterization. But whether it will be sufficient remains to be seen.
There’s yet another issue regarding how effective BBB will be as a Democratic campaign energizer next year. That is, the voting public may not significantly benefit from the Act prior to the November election since many of the popular health benefits will not kick in until 2023 or later.
Finally, BBB fails to address voting rights. Without protecting our right to vote, the Democrats have practically no chance of winning the House and little hope in the Senate next year. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, GOP legislatures around the country are enacting laws to suppress the vote, gerrymander congressional districts in their favor and control the administration of the elections giving them the ability to overturn the elections in their states.
The Democrats have no time to lose. They must settle their differences now and begin promoting their case that they are the party that truly supports the American people in these difficult times.
Urge your representative (https://www.house.gov/representatives, 202-225-3121) and senators (https://www.senate.gov//senators/senators-contact.htm, 202-224-3121) to protect our right to vote and resolve these other issues immediately. The fairness of our elections as well as the future of our democracy hangs in the balance.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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