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Sunrise Movement activist Evan Weber speaks at a demonstration pressuring President Joe Biden to not compromise on election promises regarding the climate emergency, healthcare, jobs, and social justice on May 24, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)

Sunrise Movement activist Evan Weber speaks at a demonstration pressuring President Joe Biden to not compromise on election promises regarding the climate emergency, healthcare, jobs, and social justice on May 24, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)

'Your Legacy Is... What You Deliver': Climate Movement Says Biden Budget Not Bold Enough

"This might be a political show for Biden," said the Sunrise Movement, "but for us it's a fight for our lives and for the communities we love and care about."

Jessica Corbett

As obstruction by Senate Republicans bolstered calls for killing the filibuster on Friday, the White House unveiled President Joe Biden's $6 trillion proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022—and progressives responded with fresh demands that Democrats advance a bold infrastructure package and other key priorities by whatever means necessary.

"Biden's playbook thus far has been to present 'historic' plans to gain media praise and support from the left and the people who elected him—but then has dropped the ball and fallen short on those promises."
—Ellen Sciales, Sunrise Movement

"The power of young people, working people, and activists across the country has shifted the political terrain to make a budget proposal of this size possible, but our movement will not stop agitating until this is solidified and there are tangible investments flowing into our communities," said Ellen Sciales, press secretary of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, in a statement.

Sciales explained that "Biden's playbook thus far has been to present 'historic' plans to gain media praise and support from the left and the people who elected him—but then has dropped the ball and fallen short on those promises. Biden, your legacy is not what you propose, but what you deliver. And we see right through this strategy."

"We've seen it used with Biden's supposed commitment to the $15 minimum wage fight—a battle quickly forfeited to the Senate parliamentarian, with his unacted upon campaign promises on reforming immigration and ending the detention of migrant families, and most recently with the concessions he's offered to Republicans," she added, referencing his infrastructure plans. "This might be a political show for Biden, but for us it's a fight for our lives and for the communities we love and care about."

Biden's first budget incorporates his two-pronged proposal on physical and human infrastructure—the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan—as well as increases in discretionary spending. CNBC reports that "it requests an increase of 41% for the Department of Education over last year, plus 23% more for the Department of Health and Human Services, and 22% more for the Environmental Protection Agency."

"Now is the time to build the foundation that we've laid—to make bold investments in our families, in our communities, in our nation. We know from history that these kinds of investments raise both the floor and the ceiling of the economy for everybody," Biden said Thursday during a speech in Cleveland.

"The pandemic exposed just how badly we need to invest in the foundation of this country and the working people of this country," Biden added, touting his families and job plans as "the generational investments we need today to succeed for tomorrow."

The political future of those plans, however, is uncertain, given that talks with congressional Republicans have so far proven fruitless—and progressive advocacy organizations are urging Biden and Democratic lawmakers to deliver on the ambitions promises that gave the party control of both Congress and the White House.

"That means he must increase the federal budget even further, allocating at least $1 trillion per year to stopping climate change, and must pass a bold infrastructure package that includes a Civilian Climate Corps to create at least 1.5 million new jobs and train a new workforce for careers in the clean economy," said Sciales.

Sunrise is a major backer of key progressive legislation like the Green New Deal Resolution and the THRIVE Act, and is among the groups that have criticized Biden for not yet delivering on his campaign promises, particularly in terms of tackling the climate emergency.

"We cannot miss this moment," Sciales declared. "The only way Democrats will continue to see the youth mobilization we saw in 2020 is if Biden actually delivers for our generation in a way we can see and feel."

Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, delivered a similar warning.

"Biden and congressional Democrats won power with populist promises to expand access to healthcare, lower prescription drug prices, and fight for $15 and union. Failure to turn these promises into policy will have electoral consequences," he said. "The working-class voters who elected them know that 'bipartisanship' is really a bait-and-switch, and they will punish Democrats for failing to turn their rhetoric into reality in 2022 midterms and beyond."

As Center for Popular Democracy co-executive director Jennifer Epps-Addison put it: "Biden was elected with more votes for president than any other candidate in our country's history. He has been given a mandate for change, and the president has a responsibility to use the full power of the federal government to make our country a place where all people can live with dignity."

"While we acknowledge the important interventions in this budget, we urge the president and Congress to go bigger, be bolder, and move quicker," she said. "The incompetent handling of Covid-19 by the previous administration, coupled with decades of disinvestment in public services, requires more than just good enough. This moment requires history-making transformation."

Progressive green groups flagged some specific budget wins and concerns.

"It's distressing that President Biden's budget still ignores the extinction crisis," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "What's especially tragic is that restoring abundant wildlife populations would also reap huge benefits in helping to stop the climate crisis, reduce toxic pollution, and protect wild places. This was a missed opportunity."

While Biden's proposed $18 million for endangered species recovery "represents a modest increase from last year's budget, the Endangered Species Act has been severely underfunded for decades," the center's statement explained. The budget's $22 million to protect the more than 500 animals and plants awaiting federal protections is "a mere $1.5 million above last year's levels."

"Every year, more of our most distinctive animals and plants will vanish right before our eyes," said Hartl. "Perhaps for the sake of his grandchildren, President Biden will reconsider this disastrous budget proposal."

Climate campaigners highlighted that the budget proposes repealing tax benefits for the dirty energy industry to save an estimated $35 billion over the next decade and raising another $86 billion by reforming the taxation of foreign fossil fuel income.

"Big Oil's continued existence is the single biggest threat to our climate, and it's long past time to end giveaways of public money to fossil fuel companies once and for all," said Collin Rees, senior campaigner with Oil Change International. "As we enter another year that could feature climate-fueled wildfires devastating the West and supercharged hurricanes threatening the Gulf Coast, President Biden is right to be prioritizing the climate crisis in this budget."

However, Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, emphasized that the president and lawmakers must go further.

"While President Biden's budget proposal rightly aims to cut several billion dollars in fossil fuel tax credits, by increasing funding for fossil fuel derived hydrogen and for carbon capture utilization and sequestration for fossil fuels, the budget does not provide the bold move away from fossil fuels that our climate crisis requires," he said.

"Congress must build on this proposal and do better," Jones added. "The federal government needs to be serious about leading a fair and just transition of our economy off fossil fuels and into the truly renewable energy future. It is not enough to merely invest more in renewables, we must also and at the same time directly take on the fossil fuel industry."


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