Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Big Effing Deal

While the world’s attention is on getting as many people out of Afghanistan as possible and the governors of several states are doing everything they can to kill people in the name of freedom, the House passed the $3.5 billion budget after some wayward Democrats tried to muscle Nancy Pelosi.

The 220-to-212 party-line vote came after days of delays as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scrambled to stave off a revolt from her party’s moderate-leaning lawmakers. With the frenzy resolved, the chamber averted what would have been a political embarrassment for the White House and its allies — even as the debacle foreshadowed much tougher fights among Democrats still on the horizon.

The outcome immediately set in motion a laborious effort on Capitol Hill to transform the $3.5 trillion blueprint into a fuller legislative product. Much like the proposal the Senate adopted this month, the House budget is essentially an outline that does not require Biden’s signature. Rather, it is a congressional document that unlocks for Democrats a longer legislative process known as reconciliation — a tactic that allows them to write a tax-and-spending bill that can bypass a Republican filibuster.

As part of the forthcoming package, Democrats have pledged to expand Medicare, invest sizable sums in education and family-focused programs, and devote new funds toward combating climate change — fulfilling many of the party’s 2020 campaign pledges. And they have aimed to finance the tranche of new spending through tax hikes targeting wealthy corporations, families and investors, rolling back tax cuts imposed under President Donald Trump.

“A national budget should be a statement of our national values,” Pelosi said before the House began voting. “And this will be the case.”

But the House approved its $3.5 trillion plan Tuesday only after a protracted debate that exposed the fractious and fragile nature of the Democratic caucus. Even Biden and his top aides had to intervene this week to break the stalemate within their party, illustrating the perils they may face in shepherding significant new spending along with tax increases to passage in the weeks ahead.

At the center of the recent battle were nine moderate lawmakers led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.). The group for weeks had threatened to vote against the budget, arguing the House instead should have started its work on another of Biden’s priorities — a roughly $1.2 trillion bill to improve the nation’s infrastructure that passed the Senate last month.

Pelosi instead proceeded with her original plans to start with the spending blueprint, backed by her caucus’s liberal lawmakers, who previously had threatened to mobilize their nearly 100 members if the speaker took an alternate course. With both factions at odds, the standoff pushed Democrats to the brink, since Pelosi can afford to lose only three votes in the House — and has little room to alienate either influential bloc of lawmakers.

In the end, though, Democrats reached a compromise that allowed them to bring the matter to a vote — including a commitment that the House would consider the infrastructure proposal by Sept. 27. Gottheimer and his moderate allies hailed that deal as a victory, even as liberal lawmakers signaled initial unease with the arrangement, raising the specter that the fight is far from finished.

For the benefit of those of you who were born in the last week, this is how Democrats run the country. Unlike Republicans who line up in lockstep to follow their leaders, often over a cliff unto the rocks below, the Democrats very visibly fuss and fight in public, setting off the hand-wringing by sympathetic pundits on MSNBC and crowing at Fox by the jackals… assuming jackals crow.

What all this inside-the-beltway wrangling does is overlook the fact that what is in the budget and the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is also on the way to passage is perhaps the largest and most far-reaching change in how the federal government will expand investment in the lives of Americans since the 1960’s and perhaps the 1930’s and FDR’s New Deal.  They will change the course of how things work, from the internet to taxes, plumbing to combating climate change, and shape the future of the nation for generations.  All without a single Republican vote in either the House or the Senate.

It is far from a done deal.  There is still a lot of work to do, including actually writing the bills that will accomplish all of this, and they may not look the same when they finally land on the desk of the president.

But what they will accomplish is a fundamental change in how things work, and they will be a landmark in the basic philosophy that government can be an instrument for good; that it can, in the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty…”  We seem to have lost track of those simple goals in the recent past.

So, yes, this is, to quote Joe Biden, a big fucking deal.

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