Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 21, 2021
After all the debate and contention, not a single Republican congress member voted for the Build Back Better legislation that passed the House on Friday but now faces separate review in the Senate.
In the end, the vote represents a bigger and more useful point of comparison between sides of our national divide than all the MAGA posturing about non-evidenced election fraud and cultural divisions.
On one plane, at least, for a country that is complaining loudly about the immediacy of high gas prices, health costs, and the cost of meat and milk, this social service bill is a marker in the sand: Either you think government is in place to find solutions, or you think government itself is somehow the enemy that inserts itself too much in our lives.
As The Economic Policy Institute notes, this bill basically is an investment and a bet on American growth in a way that is more inclusive and diverse than not.
It supports 2.3 million jobs annually for five years, even as covid and its variants will hang around, it makes critical efforts to establish universal pre-kindergarten nationwide, adds to affordable housing efforts, expands health care and provides paid family and medical leave. It underwrites and controls rising child-care and home-care costs for families. It tangentially supports workers’ rights and unionization efforts and provides temporary parole for many unauthorized immigrants, and to help clear processes for green cards.
And it invests in efforts to fight climate change.
A Debate over the Debate
Few people on either side dispute what the bill does nor its transformational sweep. Rather, the debate is about whether doing so is a good idea. Or whether voting for this bill is an endorsement of Joe Biden.
It turns out that the decision on good and bad hangs solely on the question of who has more votes; losing three Democratic votes in the House would have changed the outcome.
Clearly, the going will be yet more difficult in the Senate. The 50 Republicans will sit on their hands, regardless of the contents. We’ve become accustomed to the wavering of barely Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, WVA, and Kyrsten Sinema, Ariz., about their concerns, fully explained or not, over paid family leave provisions, or taxes on the wealthy associated with the bill — issues over which even they split.
Cryptically, Sinema noted that the House bill differed from the framework to which she declared allegiance, and Manchin rode the same inflation horse he’s been riding for months.
For the record, most economists see temporary inflation from covid effects differently than systemic inflation from overheated government supports, but that’s an argument for another day.
Fighting Over Costs
Each of the disputed issues is important not only for the services themselves, of course, but for calculating the final cost of this ridiculously overstuffed legislation forced into a single panic by Senate rules and Republican obstinance. The long-awaited Congressional Budget Office calculation came in mostly in support of the White House estimate but erred on a conservative effect of attempts to collect more taxes.
That just gives both sides ammunition to say the social services will be mostly paid for or not fully paid for, like the epitomal half-glass. But the bottom line is that the CBO score, as it is called, predicts almost infinitesimal growth of yearly annual budgets when compared with the total $1.85 trillion cost over a decade.
I find it continually surprising the none of the objectors to the legislation build in the comparative cost of doing nothing. There is no CBO score for failing to act.
The issue here is whether to front the costs now being borne disproportionately by middle- and working-class families to government services or to continue to see the economic and social effects that we see in growing income and service gaps that have distinct class, financial and ethnic overtones in all issues facing the country, from environment to crime.
For those Americans who have paid attention through endless debate to this point, there is more nearly endless debate to come before a Senate vote, reconciliation, and expected final approval of something like what the House voted on yesterday.
We know voters act nearly solely on what they believe to be true regardless of whether it is true in fact, that they respond to immediate concerns of gas prices and what they think is being taught their children about race over whether the government has delivered on vaccines, jobs, growth, and international security.
We ought to celebrate the House vote for what it is, an incomplete re-statement of faith in the purpose of government.