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On Dec. 20, 2021, after a months-long standoff between the House and the Senate relating to President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIF) as well as the Build Back Better Act (BBB), Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he would not support BBB, even after months of progressives and mainstream Democrats cutting out good parts of the bill to appease him. Progressives and Pelosi had threatened to tank BIF for months if BBB did not also pass, but in November, the House caved, and passed it on its own. The BIF, while it contained important funding such as repairing roads and bridges and replacing lead pipes, did not adequately address the climate emergency, which continues to grow ever more urgent, and contains none of the social spending in BBB. BBB, which is also inadequate to addressing the climate crisis, at least puts some money towards the energy transition, while BIF only addresses mitigation and resiliency and not prevention. After all of this, Manchin even had the audacity to suggest that it was the progressives, not him, who were refusing to compromise, even though he has not compromised once during this process.
Manchin can claim that this is about the debt, geopolitics, COVID-19 or whatever bullshit he wants to throw out, but the fact remains that he’s made almost five million dollars from his investments in the coal industry. Manchin can claim to be a man from the working class of West Virginia, but he’s a millionaire who owns a houseboat and drives a Maserati. How many West Virginians have a houseboat or a Maserati? The fact is: Joe Manchin is corrupt. So is Arizona “Democrat” Kyrsten Sinema. She has been just as big of a roadblock to BBB as Manchin, blocking drug pricing reforms after taking $500,000 from Big Pharma for her congressional campaigns, as well as $2,400,000 from the Big Banks and $1,500,000 from Big Real Estate.
To be clear, it is not just Joe and Kyrsten, although their, particularly Sinema’s, open contempt for their constituents is obvious and infuriating. Other Democratic senators would almost certainly be ready to step in and serve as the roadblock. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2015, has suggested that he would block drug pricing reforms in BBB, as well as a group of conservative House Democrats including New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer and Oregon’s Kurt Schrader (who is facing a serious progressive primary challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Look her up!). All have taken enormous amounts of money from Big Pharma, with Menendez accepting an astonishing $1,100,000. No wonder they don’t want lower drug prices. Almost a quarter of the House of Representatives is invested in fossil fuel companies, including Democrats such as Kurt Schrader (I wonder why he doesn’t want the country to get off of fossil fuels), Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone of New Jersey, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters, both from California. Progressives Ro Khanna of California, Peter Welch of Vermont and Marie Newman of Illinois divested from fossil fuels, and they can too, if they care.
It’s not just the stubborn conservative Democrats. Democratic leadership, including Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris completely failed to pass BBB, and at this point I’m left to believe that they just don’t care. Schumer, as Majority Leader, has leverage over Manchin and Sinema, if he cares to use it. He can strip them of their committee assignments. He can publicly pressure them. He can force Manchin and Sinema to vote against it and defend it to their constituents. Instead? We get tweets about all these great things we ought to do. Will he fight for it? I think we have our answer. Speaker Pelosi promised to hold the House strong and make sure BIF did not pass without BBB, but she caved, held the vote, and passed it decoupled from BBB. Harris, as Vice President of the United States, also serves as President of the Senate and has a level of influence over Joe and Kyrsten. Biden and Pelosi put enormous pressure on the progressives to cave on BIF, but did they do the same for BBB? No. Democratic leadership has revealed their priorities during this process.
And it wasn’t just establishment Democrats who failed. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) failed too. The CPC has 95 members, and although that includes many members of Congress who aren’t all that progressive, including Reps. Shontel Brown of Ohio and Joe Morelle of New York, to name two, there are quite a few wonderful progressives in the caucus. The fact that out of 95 members, only 6 held strong against decoupling BBB from BIF, is shameful. Let me give credit to them: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Where was Raúl Grijalva? Marie Newman? Mark Pocan? Katie Porter? They failed. And Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Chair of the CPC, whipped her caucus to vote for the bill. Out of all of the CPC members, she let us down the most. She showed during this process that she’s not the leader the CPC needs. Although I believe it was not malicious, and I know from meeting her that she is a kind person with a good heart, trusting Manchin at his word was an epic failure. Let me be absolutely, 100 percent clear. Pramila Jayapal should step down as chair of the CPC.
As Rep. Bush correctly pointed out, “Having (BIF and BBB) coupled together was the only leverage we had. And what did the caucus do? We tossed it.”
To conclude, this was an epic disaster and a massive failure at every level. From conservative Democrats obstructing progress to serve the needs of their corporate donors, to a Democratic leadership team that appears to not really give a shit, and an impotent progressive caucus led by a congressperson with good intentions but terrible political instincts. The fight for climate and economic justice does not end with BBB, however, and if it had passed, even the original $3.5 trillion package, there would still be work to do. So, to conclude, don’t let this deter you from fighting for the world we all know we deserve, and keep giving these f*cking cretins hell.