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Democrats need to end the games, get vital infrastructure bill passed

Progressives in the House Democratic caucus are playing a dangerous and, politically speaking, foolhardy game if they follow through on their threat to withhold support for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that has hard-won bipartisan support and which the country desperately needs.

The progressive wing continues to threaten to hold the infrastructure bill hostage until both the House and Senate first pass legislation that originated as President Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal, a sprawling social agenda that aims to pull millions out of poverty and strengthen the middle class. It has been projected to cost $3.5 trillion, played out over a decade and paid for in large part by reversing corporate tax-rate reductions passed during the Trump Administration.

The motivations are understandable. These lawmakers seek transformational change. There is much to like in the ambitious social spending bill. Progressives fear that if they enable passage of the infrastructure plan first, they lose leverage and that support for their agenda among Democratic centrists will melt away — leaving the legislation dramatically curtailed or abandoned.

In pursuing this strategy, however, they risk seeing neither major piece of legislation passed. Getting legislation approved will only become more difficult moving into 2022, an election year. A failed attempt at getting the infrastructure bill President Biden negotiated approved would be a devastating policy failure for the president and, by extension, the Democrats. It would make it more difficult for the party to retain the House and Senate in the 2022 election.

More importantly, an opportunity to invest in long overdue infrastructure needs would be lost, damaging the economy over the long term and costing the millions of jobs the program would have created.

The better approach, we remain convinced, is to bring forward and pass the infrastructure measure that has already been approved in the Senate. House Speaker Pelosi pledged to moderates in the caucus that they would get a vote on the $1 trillion package, which includes $550 billion in new spending, by Sept. 27. She should make good on that pledge.

With an infrastructure plan in place, Democrats could turn attention to the Build Back Better proposal. Yes, it would almost certainly have to be pared back to get support from moderate Democrats in the House and particularly the Senate, such as Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — but could still amount to a substantial social policy achievement.

Its proposals include supplying paid family and medical leave as a federal entitlement, subsidizing child and elder care, extending the child tax credits, providing universal prekindergarten and free community college, significantly expanding job-training programs, investing in affordable housing, and enhancing Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing.

Given that there is unlikely to be any support for the Build Back Better legislation among Republicans in the House or Senate, Democrats must have unanimous support in their Senate caucus and nearly universal support in the House. The Senate is split 50-50, with ties broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. In the House, Democrats have only a 220-212 advantage (with three vacancies), meaning they can lose no more than three votes.

The art and strategy of politics often involves getting what you can, not what you want. Progressives must recognize they can only go so big given their razor-thin majorities. But they can, however, get substantial things done and use that to make the case for enlarging their majorities in 2022. Or they can continue their risky approach and invite a calamitous failure. And that, in turn, could leave Biden with little chance of getting anything significant accomplished in the second half of his term because Republicans control the House, Senate or both.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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