May 18, 2021
As Senate Republicans prepare to unveil their much slimmer infrastructure counter-proposal this week during meetings with President Joe Biden, roughly five dozen congressional Democrats are urging party leaders to ignore the GOP's demands for a narrow package and instead embrace progressives' calls for rapidly making robust and comprehensive investments to improve life for working people in the U.S.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday, nearly 60 House Democrats--led by Congressional Progressive Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) but including a cross section of the party--wrote that the infrastructure framework unveiled last month by the Biden administration "made a compelling case to the American people that government can and should be a force for good in this country."
"On a host of priorities that can be delivered by this Congress, the trade-offs for Republican votes are stark."
--House Democrats' letter
Nonetheless, the Democratic lawmakers, who are currently developing "Build Back Better" legislation in the House, advocated for a national infrastructure plan that is bigger, broader, and enacted as quickly as possible--with or without the support of congressional Republicans.
"While bipartisan support is welcome, the pursuit of Republican votes cannot come at the expense of limiting the scope of popular investments," wrote the lawmakers.
Echoing points made last week by climate justice advocates who criticized Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer for engaging in "performative negotiations" with GOP leaders, the House Democrats stressed in their letter that "widespread climate denial among Republican lawmakers poses a threat to... bold, necessary action on climate."
Moreover, they wrote, Republicans also enacted former President Donald Trump's "massive tax giveaway--80% of which accrued to the wealthy and large corporations--and will likely remain a major obstacle to any opportunities to secure fair, progressive tax revenues to curb income and wealth inequality."
Indeed, as Common Dreams reported last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already vowed to oppose Biden's $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan--the White House's framework for improving the nation's physical and social infrastructure--as long as the spending proposals include even modest tax hikes on the richest Americans and corporations, which they do.
"Furthermore," the House Democrats wrote in their letter, "Republicans have consistently opposed the high-road labor and equity standards that President Biden rightly included in the American Jobs Plan to ensure the creation of high-paying union jobs with benefits, equitable hiring for women [and] people of color, and investments in Indigenous and marginalized communities that have endured decades of underinvestment."
"On a host of priorities that can be delivered by this Congress, the trade-offs for Republican votes are stark," the lawmakers added. "We ask that you work with the White House to prioritize transformative legislation that our voters were promised, which may require reforming or even eliminating the Senate filibuster as well as wielding the full powers available of the presidency, vice presidency, and relevant federal agencies to achieve these goals."
As ABC News, which first obtained the House Democrats' letter, reported Tuesday, "Biden also appears to be pursuing a multi-track strategy on infrastructure legislation that could involve a more measured initial compromise with Republicans on funding for roads, bridges, airports and broadband, followed by a larger package that Democrats could pass with 50 votes in the Senate using the budget reconciliation process."
"Human infrastructure cannot be secondary to the physical infrastructure needs or languish under Republican obstructionism."
Warning against this approach--which is also favored by conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)--the House Democrats wrote that "we believe that robust legislation comprising the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan must be enacted as rapidly as possible, preferably as a single, ambitious package combining physical and social investments hand in hand."
"Physical and human infrastructure needs are inextricably linked," the lawmakers noted. "People--especially women and people of color, who have suffered disproportionate job losses during this recession--cannot get back to work without child care, long-term care, paid leave, or investments in education and job retraining. This human infrastructure cannot be secondary to the physical infrastructure needs or languish under Republican obstructionism."
As for the size of the infrastructure package, the lawmakers pointed out that the president's initial proposals pale in comparison to the $7 trillion figure put forward by Biden on the campaign trail.
Biden's campaign proposal to invest approximately $7 trillion in health, clean energy, infrastructure, and child care, the lawmakers noted, is much closer in ambition to the roughly $10 trillion THRIVE Act, which seeks to create 15 million good-paying union jobs, reduce racial inequality, and cut climate pollution in half by 2030. Introduced last month, the THRIVE agenda is co-sponsored by more than 100 members of Congress and endorsed by over 250 labor, racial justice, and environmental groups.
"Given the scale of our unemployment, caregiving, healthcare, climate, and inequality crises; the historically low cost to make the necessary investments our country needs; and the singular governing opportunity presented to us, we urge our colleagues in Congress to pursue a larger upfront investment that truly meets this historic moment," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Pelosi and Schumer, suggesting that the THRIVE Act represents a solid infrastructure plan.
Emphasizing their eagerness to enhance their constituents' daily lives and "strengthen their faith in a government that works for working people, an economy that provides security and opportunity to all, and a planet that their children and grandchildren can enjoy for generations to come," the House Democrats told Pelosi and Schumer that they "hope to work with you and our committee chairs to develop a rapid legislative timeline to enact an ambitious and comprehensive proposal before the August recess."
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