Negotiation updates on the reconciliation bill, which included much of the policy agenda Joe Biden and the Democrats ran on back in 2020, moved quickly throughout October. The bill initially included many significant policy changes demanded by the left, but Democrats’ unwillingness to challenge business-backed chaos agents Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema has, at time of writing, gutted the bill’s initial ambitious scope.
In our Weekly Update, our team of writers and editors worked hard to keep track of the rapidly shifting negotiations in real time. Below, we’ve rounded up our coverage from our weekly dispatches so you can get up to speed (and so we could mark a clean record of what the hell happened over the last month).
This struggle is far from over, and there are likely to be significant developments as the fight continues. Hopefully this roundup can give you a good baseline to keep eyes on. It’s tempting to look away, but the working class can’t afford to ignore these significant policy fights. Keep an eye on the Washington Socialist and our Weekly to stay updated on this. Socialists and the broader left will need to process and respond to whatever happens — stay alert and informed.
The House is heading for a vote on the “bipartisan” infrastructure bill and the Progressive Caucus is holding solid — no reconciliation, no vote. The fight in many ways will determine the future of Biden’s agenda — without passage of the reconciliation bill, it’s likely that many of the big changes needed to course correct the country away from capital will be stalled indefinitely. DSA also has skin in the game: the Green New Deal for Public Schools bill, introduced by Rep. Bowman, is intended to be passed with the reconciliation package.
Democrats were able to check one box: the House and Senate voted to dodge a government shutdown.
On the big $3.5T reconciliation Build Back Better (BBB) bill, the biggest problem for Biden has apparently been not getting topline numbers (that is, less than $3.5T) that would get votes from Sens. Manchin and Sinema. Business Insider apparently has a topline number from Manchin ($1.5T), and Politico leaked his (quite self-serving) conditions, so only Sinema remains an enigma — PLUS our local comrade Max S has hit the e-pages of In These Times just today (9/30) with the latest on the stakes, the BS and the whole rumble of renewed austerity-mania (see Manchin, Joe III) that is overhanging the debate and must be resisted in the street, however we define it.
As seen in the New York Times, DSA members turned out on Thursday, along with an alliance of progressive and labor solidarity groups, to send the message that cuts to the reconciliation bill are unacceptable. You can find the video here, showing MDC DSA and Code Pink at Manchin’s press gaggle tweeted, by Bryan Metzger @metzgov.
No facts will escape being changed by the time this hits your inbox Friday morning, but we are doing our best and expect the same of you, comrades. In the meantime, brace for impact …
He said to the fireman
Boy, you’d better jump
Cause there are two locomotives
And they’re bound to bump
—Pete Seeger, “Ballad of Casey Jones”
The reconciliation bill as negotiated by Democrats is a $3.5 trillion bill which would undoubtedly improve life for the American working class: it would make two years of community college free to every American; extend the child tax credits established in the COVID relief bill earlier this year until 2025; expand free lunches to students across the country; expand vision and dental care to Medicare recipients; embark on restorative ecological justice; and it would incorporate elements of Rep. (and DSA member) Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools bill, which is a DSA national priority and continuation of the PRO Act campaign.
All of this is being held up by two senators — the cynical (self-described) “anarchist” turned corporate pawn Kyrsten Sinema and working-class traitor Joe Manchin. Socialists moved to challenge Manchin in DC last week, interrupting a press gaggle, while constituents from West Virginia confronted him on his yacht later in the week. Meanwhile, socialists and immigration rights activists tracked down Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, and activists again met up with Sinema as she landed back in DC earlier this week.
Regardless of what happens, don’t forget that the fact this battle is happening at all is a demonstration of newfound organized power on the left. Allies have been applying acute pressure to political actors in the streets and a socialist is keeping the pace of negotiations in the Senate, while progressives are dictating terms in the House. It’s good evidence that leftists have demonstrated some ability to control popular political narratives through coordinated mass action.
Congress is out in home districts this week and doing nothing, ostensibly, but the churn always exudes new news. A Politico account yesterday said Medicare expansion (dental, vision, hearing) was seriously threatened because of cost and its focus on less-impacted groups. Part of the Dem caucus divisions are taking this shape: either benefits for all, including middle-class suburbanites, or for more targeted, lower-income groups — with Manchin’s argument for means-testing getting some traction.
“Progressives are closing ranks behind Medicare expansion because it represents the best chance of getting a sliver of their ‘Medicare for All’ vision into law. But in the process, they’ve drawn criticism from fellow Democrats that the benefits would flow to the wealthy at the expense of poor people and communities of color on Medicaid, along with threats from health industry groups that it could raise seniors’ premiums,” the Politico article continued. “Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is making the case that adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to traditional Medicare will address pressing health needs for seniors and yield political dividends for Democrats in the midterm elections.”
Meanwhile, Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California and healthcare workers in Buffalo are all striking or have voted to strike in what left commentators are calling “Striketober.” Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in The Guardian says, “You might say workers have declared a national general strike until they get better pay and improved working conditions,” speaking more generally of workers’ clear resistance to rejoining the workforce for the same bad pay and conditions in a more dangerous time.
On Wednesday night, Bernie Sanders took to online streaming platforms — joined by Rep. AOC, Pastor William Barber II and others — to go over what’s in the damn bill. The virtual rally came as press breaks over the last week have all but confirmed a narrowing of the BBB bill’s scope. Though socialists and progressives might be eager to believe that something is better than nothing, without expanded spending on clear prerogatives the bill could leave the US in a worse position on climate.
From Politico Playbook Thursday morning: For most of the year, mainstream media coverage has focused on portraying Biden as FDR, but the current phase of lowered expectations has reporters reaching for LBJ analogies, a president “paring back his ambitions” as he plays the roles of “a mediator, a listener and at times an exasperated negotiator.” Sen. Joe Manchin, former college quarterback and perennial hot dog, told reporters Thursday afternoon he didn’t think negotiators (“they” not “we”) would get a framework for the reconciliation bill together by the Hallowe’en deadline.
“It’s hard not to notice that the major changes to Biden’s sweeping policies are coming from the kind of corporate interests he promised to tame,” the Politico gaggle observed. “Drugmakers are scuttling his health care promises, coal and natural gas interests are neutering his climate goals, and corporate America [with Sen. Sinema’s help] is rebelling against his tax hike.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Biden had finished another visit with Congressional Dems and declared (from the White House) a $1.85 $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill. David Dayen, editor of The American Prospect (and a DSA member), laid out the latest what’s in-what’s out count. His analysis is keyed to questions we might ask. Working people lost a round or two in this latest iteration but their kids are not looking bad. Preschool and child tax credits remain (though the child care credits are set to expire, only preschool care is set to become the new universal commitment); there’s over half a trillion bucks for climate change mitigation, much of it renewables tax incentives. Medicaid is also set to get an expansion to those in states whose right-wing governors haven’t expanded it. And here is the New York Times rundown.
There’s still a lot that’s unclear - including tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, which look like are being pared down. Distrust that the bill will pass as intended has caused Bernie Sanders to reiterate his warning to House Progressives to hold off a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless the reconciliation bill is included with it.
The House Progressive Caucus signaled its commitment to hold the line — voting on the infrastructure bill only if the Build Back Better Act is included. “The CPC just overwhelmingly voted to endorse, in principle, the entire Build Back Better Act framework announced by President Biden today. We appreciate the President’s leadership and his commitment to getting this process over the finish line. … Members of our Caucus will not vote for the infrastructure bill without the Build Back Better Act. We will work immediately to finalize and pass both pieces of legislation through the House together.” Full statement via Twitter. Rep AOC explained why just voting on the bipartisan infrastructure bill is not sufficient. Rep AOC laid out (on environmental grounds) the BBB and infrastructure bill must be passed together.
The fight has been messy and is likely to jade many socialists and progressives. This could have been an opportunity to significantly make life better for the American working class. Rep Ilhan Omar released an analysis through Twitter detailing the high-cost corporate campaign designed to collapse the bill’s original scope
Some good news — citing protests from Howard University students, Sen Chris Coons (D-DE) stated that expanded funding for HBCUs is likely to be included in the bill. Additionally, it looks like the Harris Rider — the provision included in the yearly budget appropriations bill that prevents DC from legalizing marijuana — is unlikely to be included this year, paving the way for full legalization of marijuana in the District.