By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
After much drama last week, President Biden made it clear that his core legislative package – the American Jobs Plan, which would begin rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure and the American Family Plan, which would address essential needs – will pass together or not at all. Now Democrats are moving to negotiate the scope of the Family Plan so they can unify behind it.
The inevitable disputes, public and private, should not drown out some basic truths. First, the two bills contain reforms that are both imperative and are remarkably popular. The infrastructure bill – the American Jobs Plan – is but a small down payment on rebuilding the key sinews of our economy – roads, mass transit, water systems, the electric grid. No sensible person doubts the need. Donald Trump promised to do it, but never got around to presenting a plan. From Texas to Manhattan, the extreme weather caused by climate change has revealed that we must invest in resilience. Lead pipes like those that infamously poisoned Flint, Michigan’s water endanger the young in communities across the country. The inadequacy of our bridges, roads and train systems impede our ability to compete in a global economy.
The American Family Plan puts many programs together in a reconciliation package that can pass with majority support, a tactic necessitated by Republican obstruction to popular reforms. What Republicans label as “socialist” would simply provide basic shared security to American families that is enjoyed by families in industrial nations across the world. The child tax credit gives families with children a helping hand, as does expanded investment in daycare and universal pre-K. It would reduce childhood poverty by almost half. The bill would also guarantee paid family leave so that workers can afford to care for their loved ones in distress. Making community college tuition free will make advanced education more affordable. Providing seniors with more affordable prescription drugs and expanding Medicare to include hearing, vision and dental care is just common sense. President Biden’s plan also contains the first serous investment in addressing climate change.
These investments are not frivolous luxuries. They do not turn America into a socialist society. They make for a somewhat more humane and rational society. And that is why each of these measures – and the package itself – enjoys majority support, including significant support among Republican voters, if not legislators.
Second, these bills are affordable. The infrastructure bill, described as a $1.5 trillion plan, in fact provides $550 billion in new money over 10 years. The Family Plan is described as a $3.5 trillion bill, but this too is over 10 years. In comparison, the military budget – at over $1 trillion a year – would be a $10 trillion-dollar program.
Moreover, both plans include savings and tax hikes – on the wealthy and on corporations – that pay for the bulk of the new spending. And the jobs and growth that they will inevitably produce will ensure that they reduce deficits over time, not add to them.
Since they are largely paid for, the bills are not inflationary. Even if they weren’t balanced by tax hikes on the rich, they still would not add to inflation. Over the next 10 years, our cumulative GDP will total over $285 trillion, representing nearly 20 percent of the world economy. Three-and-a-half trillion is barely over 1 percent of that, so suggesting that will somehow fuel out-of-control inflation is a joke.
Americans are feeling the rising costs of food, of gasoline, of housing, but this increase doesn’t come from government spending. Food costs are rising largely because global climate catastrophes are laying waste to crops across the world.
Gasoline is rising because of supply problems. Supply chain and production snafus due to natural difficulties in recovering from the pandemic shutdown are inevitable, but transitory.
Third, for all the talk of division, what is striking is how unified the parties are. Republicans – despite all the blather of bipartisanship – are unified in obstructing the Biden agenda, believing that they will benefit if he fails. There weren’t even 10 Republican Senate votes to enable the IRS to collect the taxes that are owed.
Republicans voted unanimously against the Rescue Plan in the midst of the pandemic. They will vote unanimously against the American Family Plan – and against any effort to pay for it that involves raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.
Democrats, in contrast, are remarkably unified in favor of both plans. As Rep. Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has said, about 96 percent of Democrats in both houses of Congress favor passing the president’s plan. There are only two conservative senators – Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema – and only half a dozen House members dragging their feet.
The problem is that with the Senate split 50-50 and Democrats having a margin of only three in the House, even a few corrupted, compromised, or conservative opponents can foul up the works. And, needless to say, Big Pharma, Big Oil, the business lobby and Wall Street have launched legions of lobbyists and millions in ad campaigns to try to stop the reforms from going forward.
Against the blizzard of corporate campaigns and money, against the partisan obstruction of Republicans, it will take a broad, active citizen mobilization to force the change. These reforms are long overdue; their passage is a moral imperative, not simply a policy choice. Over the next few weeks, Americans must join the fight. Every citizen who cares about the future of this country should make certain their senators and representatives hear from them.
(You can write to the Rev. Jesse Jackson in care of this newspaper or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RevJJackson.)
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.