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Activists with the Sunrise Movement march to the White House

Hundreds of young climate activists march along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House on June 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

200+ Groups to Democrats: $6 Trillion 'Should Be the Floor' for Climate and Infrastructure Bill

"Over a ten-year period, it represents just over 1% of the U.S. GDP and less than half of Pentagon spending given current trends."

Jake Johnson

A coalition of more than 200 progressive advocacy organizations and think tanks released a joint statement Wednesday arguing that $6 trillion in spending "should be the floor, not the ceiling" of Democratic lawmakers' ambitions as they craft a legislative package aimed at combating the climate crisis, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, and repairing the tattered safety net.

"The recent bipartisan framework announced by the White House is insufficient to meet these challenges and must not advance on its own," reads the new statement, referring to the $579 billion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden touted last week, flanked by Republicans and conservative Democrats. "Congress must seize the historic opportunity in the FY2022 budget resolution to build on the Biden Administration’s proposals and set the stage for a bold reconciliation package."

Led by the Progressive Caucus Action Fund, the Economic Policy Institute, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Poor People's Campaign, the joint statement characterizes the $6 trillion framework proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the "minimum scale necessary to tackle our nation's most urgent challenges."

"Over a ten-year period, it represents just over 1% of the U.S. GDP and less than half of Pentagon spending given current trends," the groups note. "The proposal is reported to improve on the Biden administration's proposals by allowing Congress to expand Medicare, a policy supported by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Senator Sanders also proposes increased funding to address climate change and provides a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants."

Specifically, the statement calls on Congress to prioritize:

  • $1.1 trillion in investments in public investments in clean energy and "hundreds of billions of dollars more to expand and electrify public transit and retrofit our schools and homes";
  • Improving and making permanent the American Rescue Plan's expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which as currently designed could leave out millions of poor families;
  • Implementing a national, universal paid leave program;
  • Closing the Medicaid coverage gap;
  • Slashing prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices; and
  • Hiking taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.

"Right now, too many families continue to struggle to balance child care, family, and work, and millions struggle just to make ends meet, all while the ultra-wealthy continue to reap billions without paying their fair share," the statement reads. "Communities across the country are demanding a budget resolution that meets the scope and scale of this moment."

The groups' call comes as Democratic lawmakers are in the early stages of assembling legislation that they hope to pass alongside the bipartisan infrastructure package using an arcane process known as budget reconciliation, through which bills can pass with just a simple-majority vote.

With large swaths of the United States in the grips of a record-shattering and deadly heatwave, progressive lawmakers are demanding a reconciliation package that focuses heavily on confronting the threat posed by the climate crisis.

"Look at what is happening in the Pacific Northwest right now," Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said earlier this week. "If we do not significantly invest in transforming our energy system, future generations will never forgive us."

But progressives raised alarm Wednesday after a leaked memo indicated that the White House is focused more on what one critic described as "technocratic," market-driven tweaks than the kinds of sweeping public investments that Sanders, Democratic lawmakers, and grassroots organizations are advocating.

The White House memo, authored by climate adviser Gina McCarthy and senior adviser Anita Dunn, lists as administration priorities "tax cuts for businesses and consumers who invest in clean energy technologies" and "sending a market signal that brings additional private investment off the sidelines and into modernizing our electric grid through an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard."

Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that the memo "should be seen for what it is: little to nothing of substance."

"Instead of explicitly supporting a bonafide standard for clean, renewable energy, McCarthy's memo touts ''market signals' and the leveraging of deeply flawed existing energy systems," Jones added. "If the White House wants us to believe it is taking the climate crisis seriously, this memo does the opposite."

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