How to let down an American generation

Anthony Lopez, Senior Writer

Before taking office, President Biden proposed an extensive plan which he promised would help revitalize an economy hindered by the continuing pandemic, evolve the country’s systems of infrastructure and promote policies and industries that would theoretically benefit the working class. While the first part of his sweeping endeavor — the American Rescue Plan Act signed in March of this year — expanded unemployment benefits while also providing stimulus checks to millions of citizens, the rest of his economic package has been met with rigorous opposition from Congress and left few prospects for the Biden administration to realize its economic vision.

The gridlock pervading the House and Senate has meant that necessary initiatives are refused, whether they are perceived as disagreeable on their own or because the packaged plan also includes less-than-favorable “rider” policies. The current Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bill with trace elements of Biden’s Build Back Better Plan, was passed by the Senate, but received pushback in the House. 

The current divide in Congress concerns the Biden investment plan, the centerpiece of which is a $3.5 trillion package that would provide funding for renewable energy initiatives and create thousands of new jobs across the country. It would also expand paid medical and family leave and provide Medicare with greater leverage to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Though a sweeping package, Biden’s bill is under threat of being rejected before it even reaches a vote. 

The most difficult opponents to this plan are not necessarily Republicans, who have (predictably) all-but-unanimously rejected the Democrat-led proposal. Both the House and Senate are controlled by members of the Democratic party; even if their majority holds, this massive spending bill need not require the participation of Republicans in Congress by following the process of “budget reconciliation” which only requires a simple majority. So long as Democrats maintain a united front, they can pass the proposed plan. However, that possibility is placed under threat as the more moderate members of Congress remain steadfast in their resistance and demand debilitating compromises that would severely weaken the effectiveness of the investment plan. 

High-profile Congressional holdouts can be found in Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, both Democratic senators that have repeatedly voiced their disagreement with their own party’s proposals in the past. Given the fragility of their party’s hold in Congress, it is nearly essential to turn their dissent into support, likely why they have quickly garnered central roles in discussions within the Senate, a new reality compounded by their positions in important committees. Manchin himself is a chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which means that his voice carries a particular authority concerning the climate-related elements included in the plan. 

It is that much more of a shame, then, to see his insistent desires to slash the $3.5 trillion price tag of the investment plan by more than half, which would put the many initiatives that he oversees in danger of losing their necessary funding. Some of these components include tax credits for clean-energy investments, a clean-energy investment program, and incentives to transition towards electric vehicles. With the global climate crisis arguably already upon us, these portions of the investment plan are especially critical for America’s future.

So why are senators like Manchin and Sinema still resistant to the investment plan, as well as many of Biden’s proposed packages? The price is one concern often raised in response, with its detractors insisting that $3.5 trillion towards America’s services is too high a cost. One might respond that no price is too great for initiatives that have long since demanded reevaluation, but progressive Democrats have added that methods exist which could more than cover the cost of these expensive plans. While some of them propose raising taxes on high-income households and corporations, it is also important to acknowledge that the investment plan itself will stimulate the economy by adding thousands of new jobs. 

But even so, this is simply not sufficient to sway the moderates in Congress, who continually insist that cost is the central issue. Certain policies are far too grand, too radical, and too sweeping. So Congress is at a standstill, and necessary bills like this continually face the threat of being dead in the water. 

I would never deign to question the integrity of senators like Manchin and Sinema, who perhaps do possess a modicum of passion to serve as voices for the citizens of their states. I will, however, raise great concern for their continued involvement with corporations through lobbying investments. Only a few weeks ago, Sinema held a fundraiser that included five business lobbying groups, many of which opposed the investment plan. She has found particular support from pharmaceutical corporations, receiving more than $27,000 from representative PACs and thousands more from individuals representing “big pharma.”

Meanwhile, Manchin has received tens of thousands from lobbyists representing companies ranging from Dominion Energy, Occidental Petroleum, and Exelon Corp. Both senators have received funding from the tobacco industry, a potential response to House Democrats working on a way to hike tobacco and nicotine taxes in an effort to pay for the bill. 

There will be time on another day to talk about the dangerous effects of lobbying in Congress, a deeply worrying encroachment of privatization on the federal government’s authority. But for now, suffice it to say only this – this farce has gone on for long enough. Manchin, Sinema and the rest of the dissenting Democratic voices need to stop toying with their newfound power and apply it towards effective plans that will legitimately improve the welfare of the American people and the future of this country. Time and again the United States finds itself in the same position: at the cusp of transformative change, our leaders squander it precisely when their authority matters most. 

This is a prime opportunity for moderate voices in Congress to prove that they are not beholden to the demands of corporations and cannot be swayed by thousands of dollars gained through lobbying. The American people deserve better, and they deserve politicians in government who look past their own interests and actually represent their constituents. 

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