Nov 23, 2021
The potential landmark progressive legislation Build Back Better Bill came one step closer to becoming a reality last week. The House passed the close to $2 trillion compromise version of the bill which still includes sweeping initiatives to combat climate change and strengthen the nation's economic and social safety net. Hailing its passage, President Biden declared that the bill was "fiscally responsible" and "Above all, it puts us back on the path to build our economy back better than before by rebuilding the backbone of America: working people and the middle class."
Perhaps just as powerful was the justification for the bill. This was a commitment to invest in human infrastructure by making the wealthy pay their fair share. While not a full throttled embrace of socialism, it was at least a rejection of the once sacred and unquestioned belief in free-market capitalism. Even the traditionally "moderate" Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proclaimed exuberantly "We will be telling our children and grandchildren that we were here this day...(it is) monumental, it's historic, it's transformative, it's bigger than anything we've ever done. If you care about the planet and how we pass it on, this bill is for you."
"It is telling that the concerns of costs only appear to be important when it comes to actually investing in communities and people."
Yet even as many celebrated, the roadblocks to progress remain. Steadfast holdout Senator Manchin has already warned ominously that he remained worried about inflation. These concerns should not be taken as economically seriously. Instead, they reflect the willingness of those still faithful to a corporate status to make any excuse necessary to preserve it.
Stalling progress in the wake of the celebrated passage of the Infrastructure Bill, the "Build Back Better" legislation was at risk of being an afterthought. This was not an accident. Progressives had long feared that once the Bipartisan bill for funding the physical rebuilding of the country was signed that the progressive demand for investing in "human infrastructure" would be sidelined and forgotten.
While in the past, progressive legislators would have resigned themselves to moral outrage - they are now in a much stronger political position. The progressive caucus has continued to push hard for the legislation. Their strength in numbers and leverage was shown in the fact that House members kept good on their promise and passed the still substantial spending bill.
Of course, its final passage is far from guaranteed. At every step, Centrists have sought to reduce and delay any attempt to challenge the corporate status quo. Their reasons have varied from that it would explode the debt (despite the bill would actually be close if not completely debt neutral in the long run) to the absurd charge that it would "overheat the economy," to their newest fear that it would contribute to inflation. This latest change came on the heels of their recent demand that the bill first be vetted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
It is telling that the concerns of costs only appear to be important when it comes to actually investing in communities and people. When health, education, and the social safety net need funding, suddenly the government has little or no money to spend. However, when it is the military or tax cuts for the rich, any question of fiscal restraint is forgotten.
While it is always worth countering the truth of these conservative "concerns" over costs, it should be always remembered that they are not being made in anything near good political faith. Indeed, if politicians were really worried about inflation they would focus on "corporate greed" and not much needed public investment. Even once unshakeable supporters of the financial system such as Senator Chuck Schumer are now admonishing "Centrist" holdouts like Manchin, tweeted that "The best way to address inflation is to pass a bill that creates jobs, reduces bottlenecks, and is totally paid for by making sure the wealthy pay their fair share. That's just what we're doing with the Build Back Better Act."
Their real fear is not debt or inflation, it is the possibility that the current status quo will be replaced by one that is more economically just and less politically and financially lucrative for those in the establishment. The "Washington consensus" is crumbling both from populism on the Right and democratic socialism on the Left. The real cause of its demise is a rapidly declining belief in corporate power and capitalism marked by exploding inequality that can no longer be scientifically, economically, or morally justified.
Their real fear is not debt or inflation, it is the possibility that the current status quo will be replaced by one that is more economically just and less politically and financially lucrative for those in the establishment.
Instead, the goal of these Centrists is at all times is to slow down measures that would hurt their corporate donors and their overall influence. Whereas once, mainstream politicians in both Parties could simply dismiss these efforts as at best "idealist" and at worst "dangerous socialism", the times are a changing. Free-market orthodoxy has been fundamentally shaken and all its defenders can do now is stall any and all attempts at progressive change.
The new tactic of the defenders of this old order is to cling to whatever vestiges of the status quo they can before it disappears entirely. For many Liberals this leads to an understandable embrace of "democratic normalcy" in the face of fascist ethno-nationalism seeming to engulf much of the nation and the world. Yet it also produces "moderates" like Senators Manchin and Sinema who are seeking to hold back progressive policies on climate change, public health, and economic welfare that threaten their benefactors in industries like fossil fuels and big Pharma.
There are, of course, real debates to be had about how to achieve a "human-centred economy." These include the pace and scope of this radical transformation. Measures like "Build Back Better" are just a small step in the right direction. The path to a just society that works and benefits the many as opposed may be long and will certainly encounter many roadblocks along the way. Yet for every step forward, those in the establishment will always work their hardest to stop such progress in its tracks.
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