Thursday, October 28, 2021

Joe Did What? The Return of Team Optimist

Can't believe I'm still doing this, but it's really not over, and there are some reasons to be pleased with today's program from Biden, assuming he's put it out because he really thinks he has a deal, and supposing he might be right

“After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package,” Sinema said in a statement. “I look forward to getting this done, expanding economic opportunities and helping everyday families get ahead.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the other centrist holdout, would say only, “In the hands of the House” when asked about the new framework in the Capitol on Thursday.

If I understand that correctly, it means Manchin is saying his own work is done, until Pelosi sends the bill over for him to vote on—that is, he's not planning to undermine it any farther than he's already done. 

The worst cuts seem to be those of the paid leave provisions, which were supposed to cost somewhere between $494 billion and $547 billion over the ten-year period, the prescription drug pricing negotiation initiative, which would have saved the government between $460 billion and $530 billion over the same period, and the free community college. Sanders has had to let go his plan to include vision and dental care in the Medicare menu, but hearing remains. The immigration approach is not chopped liver ($100 billion to improve efficiency and humanity in green card process, asylum process, border, etc.) but isn't at all the promised reform (which I think probably couldn't fit in the reconciliation).

What's in the bill remains pretty good, if limited in time for some items:

  • Climate—$450 billion in tax credits and other incentives to put us on track for 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030; $110 billion for extreme weather resilience measures and the Civilian Climate Corps
  • Children—fully funded tax credit, $300/month for each child up to six, $250 up to 18, for some 35 million families; expanded quality day care for 20 million, funded for six years; universal 3- and pre-K for six years; free school meals to 8.9 million kids during school year and $65/month in food aid for 30 million kids in summer
  • Health—permanent improvement in Medicaid coverage of home care for seniors and people with disabilities; closing of Medicaid gap in states that refused expansion; lower Obamacare premiums for 9 million and more access for people who don't now qualify for it
  • Housing—$150 billion to build or rehabilitate upwards of a million homes
  • Education—upping maximum Pell grant for 5 million students by $550 and expanding it to include more Dreamers; new support for HCBUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions; 50% increase in spending on other training programs including Registered Apprenticeships
  • Low-wage workers—Expanding Earned Income Tax Credit for some 17 million childless workers 
  • Rural needs—Rural Partnership Program for locally developed projects

And then of course there are the tax reforms that are supposed to offset the whole $1.85 trillion cost (slightly over half the original $3.5 trillion proposal): 15% minimum tax on corporations to eliminate all those zero-dollar returns from the most famous and biggest companies, 5% surtax on incomes over $10 million, and additional 3% over $25 million. Not the wealth-increase tax I was led to hope for over the last couple of days, but still a very serious redistribution effort from the 1% down.

As Nathan Newman wrote the other day, the greatest programs start small: Roosevelt and Johnson may have had a lot more imagination than Clinton and Obama, but the latter built on the former to do a lot more work:

the Great Society was actually kind of pathetic at the time LBJ left office, a bunch of programs launched but most reaching very few people and spending only a tiny bit more than when he assumed office. In 1967, government spending programs lifted only 4 percent of Americans out of poverty.

But despite all the complaints about “neoliberal” Democrats, they steadily expanded those Great Society programs to the point that according to analyses by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 42 percent of people in poverty leave poverty due to help from programs ranging from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), EITC and SSI.

And the same can be said for Social Security and Medicaid, miserable little things at the outset and a lifeline for many millions now.

The lesson here is that progressives have never been able to get what we wanted when programs were first introduced - and we’ve been pissed at the half-ass compromises approved each time.... But having those programs in the budget in the first place is a major advance. As conservatives endlessly - and correctly - complain, once a program is enacted, it is very hard to eliminate because they are popular with the public. So getting ANYTHING passed is a giant step since then we can build on it incrementally in future years.

That's for the progressive problem-solving side of the issue. This may be a lot less than advertised, but it's still a big fucking deal, not just for what it provides now but especially for where it can lead in the future.

And for the political side, that future looks closer to me today: I think my 1934 fantasy looks a lot more plausible today than it did yesterday. In another post, I'll try to put together some reasons.

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