Biden’s incredible shrinking social ‘reform’ bill
The “framework” of “Build Back Better” legislation announced by President Biden Thursday morning and presented to the Democratic House caucus signals the collapse of reformist claims of the Democratic administration and Democrat-controlled Congress. Despite all the awe-inspiring rhetoric about radical social legislation and “the most important legislation for workers” since the New Deal (in the words of Bernie Sanders), the Democratic Party leadership adopted a watered-down plan that cost annually (175 $) billion) represents less than a quarter of the military budget.
Legislation incorporating the “framework,” a budget reconciliation bill, was submitted to the House Rules Committee on Thursday and is nearly 2,200 pages long. Its provisions are complex and the approval procedures are both convoluted and very precarious. It is entirely possible that the legislative process could lead to a complete political debacle for both the Biden White House and the Democratic Party as a whole, without any significant legislation being passed.
But there is a common thread in the legislative bargaining process with two right-wing Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and half a dozen right-wing Democrats in the House, who have reduces initial social spending. $ 6 trillion bill at the start, to the $ 3.5 trillion bill proposed by the White House, and now to the $ 1.75 billion passed by Biden on Thursday – half of his original plan and barely one quarter of Sanders’ opening bid.
All of these figures represent expenditures spread over ten years. By comparison, the military budget over the same period would be at least $ 8 trillion, and projected interest payments on the federal debt could be even higher. Each year, the Federal Reserve injects nearly $ 1.5 trillion into the markets, almost as much as the bill allocates in ten years.
The legislation has been shaped entirely by the class interests of the capitalist ruling elite, which demands both a continued supply of cash from the treasury and an increased supply of low-wage labor amid the pandemic. During these ‘negotiations’, measures that provide subsidies to businesses or encourage more workers to enter the labor market have advanced, while measures that cost businesses money, support workers for a long time to come. that they are not actively employed or are simply improving their lives, have been killed.
This rule of thumb explains both which provisions have survived and which have been abandoned. To briefly describe them, based on the descriptions provided by the White House, the surviving measures include:
- Climate related spending, totaling $ 555 billion. This is the largest one-time allocation in the much-reduced reconciliation bill, and the lion’s share, $ 320 billion, comes in the form of tax credits to utilities, electric vehicle manufacturers and companies that build battery charging stations. An additional $ 110 billion is intended for direct incentives (subsidies) to producers of “solar, batteries and advanced materials” (of great concern to the Pentagon), as well as “to boost the competitiveness of existing industries, such as steel, cement and aluminum ”.
- Universal preschool programs for three and four year olds, as well as federally subsidized child care. Despite the glowing rhetoric about expanding the social safety net, the main goal of this program is to free mothers with young children to take up low-paying jobs.
- Expansion of Medicaid in a dozen states, mostly in the South, all led by Republican state governments that have refused federal grants for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Since most low-wage employers do not offer health care coverage, workers in these states, including Texas and Florida, are strongly discouraged from taking jobs that would only slightly increase their earnings. income, while rendering them ineligible for Medicaid.
- Extension of the expanded Income Tax Credit (EITC) for around 17 million low-wage workers. This is essentially a wage subsidy for low-wage employers, as it allows workers to survive on extremely low wages with a federal government cap, available only if they stay in their job for a minimum number of days. ‘hours per week. It is not payable to workers who quit their jobs, are made redundant or are long-term unemployed.
- Creation of a federally funded home care program for the elderly and disabled. The aim of the course is to reintegrate into the labor market those who would otherwise have to give up to care for elderly parents or disabled relatives. This is especially important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has scared people away from nursing homes that have become death traps.
Programs that have been largely or entirely eliminated include:
- Two years of free community college. This would obviously have taken a large number of workers out of the workforce, especially those who only worked and attended school part-time, who would be encouraged to enroll in full-time education.
- Paid family and medical leave. This was initially set at 12 weeks, then reduced to four weeks, and then eliminated entirely.
- Child tax credit of $ 250 per month and $ 300 per month for children six years of age or under. The bill extends the credit for only one year, to avoid its expiration in the midst of the campaign for the legislative elections of 2022. Formerly promised as a new permanent benefit that “would halve child poverty”, the credit for children is now scheduled to end on December 31, 2022.
- Authorization for Medicare to negotiate lower prices for drugs by using its enormous purchasing power to negotiate with drug companies.
- Medicare extension to provide dental, vision and hearing coverage. One of Sanders’ “red lines”, the proposal has been scaled down to include only hearing coverage, the cheapest of the three. In addition to being expensive, this coverage was seen as unwanted competition for insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans (a semi-private version of Medicare).
Along with tailoring social spending proposals to meet the class interests of big business, Biden’s latest version of the reconciliation package rules out any significant increases in tax rates for corporations or the wealthy, and it doesn’t even include not the proposed “billionaire tax”. by some Senate Democrats this week, after the provision was challenged by several billionaires and threatened with extended prosecution on constitutional grounds.
There are a handful of tax provisions to support the claim of “fairness” and “fairness”, such as a minimum corporate income tax, but these will be easily evaded by giant corporations and their tax and legal departments. well funded. Likewise, the surtax on the income of millionaires and billionaires is likely to be removed due to Senator Sinema’s categorical opposition to any increase in income tax rates.
These tax expenditures and measures are grouped together in the “reconciliation” bill, which requires 50 votes in the Senate to be adopted. The separate “infrastructure” bill has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support as it is essentially a $ 1.2 trillion mess for large construction companies and other corporations. , such as trucking, shipping, electric utilities, etc.
Following Biden’s meeting with House Democrats, the “progressives” passed the substance of his much scaled-down reconciliation bill. While still insisting on passing the two bills together, they do not argue for significant improvements to the reconciliation bill. Medicare extension, paid family leave, free community college and other measures are not on the table.
The whole rotten process not only exposes the nature of the Democratic Party itself. As Biden said in his remarks from the White House on Thursday after his meeting with the House, “I am a capitalist.” Or to be more precise, he is a paid servant of the capitalists, like any Democrat and Republican politician.
The Democratic Party is a party of Wall Street, intelligence agencies and the military, resting on privileged layers of the middle class. The role of Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, et al. is to provide this reactionary political organization with the simplest fig leaf of social reform.
Moreover, far from “creating a space” for social reform, as claimed by the pseudo-left promoters of the Democratic Party, the right-wing policies of the Democrats, insofar as they do not oppose it through political mobilization. independent of the working class on a socialist program, only fuel the growth of the far right.