Even people who follow DC politics closely are struggling to keep up with this week’s political drama. Between a looming government shutdown, the need to raise the debt ceiling by next month, and the Democrats’ intra-party fight over infrastructure and the Build Back Better Act, a tangled political mess is unfolding on Capitol Hill—and the results will directly impact the lives of everyday people. In this installment of The Marc Steiner Show, Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies joins Marc to break the situation down in clear terms and to tell listeners how to contact their senators and representatives to voice their opinions. Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-editor of the IPS web site Inequality.org.
Tune in for new segments of The Marc Steiner Show every Tuesday and Friday on TRNN.
Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Stephen Frank
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. It’s great to have you all with us once again. And we’re about to dive into this very complex, crazy situation on Capitol Hill and the vote coming up in Congress. And just what is going on between the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back America Act and the battles between inside the Democrats, between progressives, and what people call moderates, and the Republicans standoff that’s taking place, how this affects us all. For many people, it’s very confusing and for me, it’s relatively confusing, and I had to really spend some time parsing through it myself. So we are joined right now by Sarah Anderson, who directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, which is also the co-editor of their website, inequality.org. And Sarah, welcome. Good to have you with us.
Sarah Anderson: Great to be here. Thank you.
Marc Steiner: So, just very quickly, let’s define these moving parts. We’ve got these bills, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better Act, and progressives saying they are not going to vote on the infrastructure bill unless they vote first on the Build Back Better Act. And the Republicans are saying they’re going to vote against the debt ceiling and they don’t care if the government gets shut down. And all these things are connected, but they’re also different parts. So explain for a moment exactly what you think the dynamic is here.
Sarah Anderson: Well, let me start with the Build Back Better Act. This is the big Democrats only bill, so they only need Democrat support, but they need just about every single Democrat to support it. And the stakes here are so high. This legislation has the potential to be the most consequential piece of legislation since the 1930s. I can’t list all of the vital public investments in here, but we’re talking about things like free community college, universal child care and paid leave, massive investment in good jobs for home care workers and affordable services for home care workers. For older people, Medicare would cover glasses, dentists, and hearing aids and on and on. Plus massive investments in climate infrastructure to shift us away from our dependence on fossil fuel. And to make it all even better, this would all be paid for by raising taxes on the ultra wealthy and big corporations, and finally unrigging this tax system that has so much favored these privileged groups. So that to me is the exciting piece of it, and we are here because of the heroic efforts of the climate movement, of the care advocates, and other social movements.
What makes it complicated is that there’s another big spending bill, which is the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That’s mostly roads and bridges, but also broadband access, new water pipes for communities that need them, that kind of thing. That could pass with bipartisan support, but it is much narrower. It is not the transformational kind of legislation that progressives are really excited about and that would make such a huge difference in the lives of so many millions of people. So the progressive caucus in the House doesn’t want to vote on that narrower package before they get a clear commitment that the bigger package is going to move as well. And so we could [have] a real showdown here this week on Thursday. How Speaker Pelosi has said, she’s going to bring the narrower package up for a vote. Pramila Jayapal, the head of the progressive caucus, says enough progressives are going to vote against it so that it won’t pass. And meanwhile, you have the conservative Democrats, the new term is Manchema on the Senate side with Manchin and Sinema. And then there’s a handful on the House side too who are saying, “No, no, no, no. We want the bipartisan thing and we don’t want such a big Democrats only bill.” So it’s high drama and it’s high stakes.
Marc Steiner: So I think when you look at this, we said earlier to each other before we started talking, how I think many people in the United States are very confused by what all this means. Because it sounds like, as Bob Marley would say, “Poli-tricks” and just do something. And so that’s a dilemma, I think, for progressives and building a movement because of the confusion that people have about what all this means. That’s part of this dynamic as well.
Sarah Anderson: Absolutely, and just so much talk about what’s the last thing that Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia said, it’s almost like we elected him to be president and not Joe Biden. And that the Democratic Party doesn’t have the majority, the trifecta majority, in the House, Senate, and the White House, because you have members like him who are positioning themselves as quite outside the party mainstream and have enormous power because of this razor thin majority. But the polling shows among West Virginians, the Build Back Better plans are wildly popular, especially the tax the rich parts of it. Here’s a state [that] has been devastated by overpaid CEOs flooding our communities with opioids and inflating their own paychecks. Similarly, with mining accidents that have enriched the people at top of corporations.
So people in West Virginia know that they have needs. They know that they shouldn’t have to be the ones to pay for these public investments. That it should be the people at the top. So these things are really popular, and there’s a big disconnect between what the polling shows people on the ground think versus what some of these members in Washington. And Manchin and Senator Sinema from Arizona are two of the most vocal, but there is a little bit of a broader gang here. Not anywhere near the size of the progressive caucus, that has almost 100 members. And so you might hear some people saying, “Oh, can’t those Progressives just stand down and just go along with whatever they can get through?” Well, why should they have to stand down? They outnumber these conservative Democrats by really significant numbers and I’m really encouraged to see them standing as tall as they are right now.
Marc Steiner: So basically, a couple of issues here. And one of those things, when you talk about Sen. Manchin, it’s always interesting to me, as a quick sidebar, that here you have Manchin representing a state that is really a working class state full of a lot of working class and poor people who are struggling. And you have Sinema who was once a Green and is now doing the bidding of the corporate world. It’s just very strange to watch that go on politically.
Sarah Anderson: Yes. I can’t get myself inside Kyrsten Sinema’s head right now. She, I believe, has a background in social work. She should understand the urgent needs that we have in this country, despite being the world’s wealthiest country. And that the pandemic exposed these economic divides even more dramatically than we saw them before. The billionaire class has seen their combined fortunes increase by a total of $1.8 trillion during a pandemic in which low wage workers on the front lines have lost jobs, lives, and people, have been so much on the absolute edge. And so to deny now that we have unmet human needs in this country, and that we have people who could be chipping in a whole lot more than they are now to cover them is something I can’t quite understand.
Marc Steiner: So let me cover a few things in the time that we have together. Clearly, part of what’s going on here from what I’ve been reading in The Times, The Hill, The Post, and other newspapers like that, is that there’s been this massive and common dreams in the nation. There’s been this massive amount of spending by corporate lobbyists, massive amounts to turn this around and to stop these bills from taking place and stopping them from being taxed. And it’s this broad coalition from big pharma, to big oil, to the alleged very hip progressive high tech people. All this one massive group saying, “We’re going to pour millions and millions of dollars in Capitol Hill to stop them from raising taxes on us for the infrastructure bill and for the social betterment of the country as well.” That is what everybody’s up against.
Sarah Anderson: Yeah, it’s really shameless to see. And one group that I would add to your list is the American Dental Association just came out to try to block seniors with Medicare from getting dental coverage.
Marc Steiner: Why would they do that?
Sarah Anderson: Their claim is that they won’t get reimbursed for their costs. But it’s just appalling, I think, to have medical professionals trying to stand in the way of people getting more access to the care that they need.
Marc Steiner: You might have to drive a Hyundai instead of an Audi.
Sarah Anderson: It’s embarrassing. And they do look desperate. The US Chamber of Commerce came out with a laughable report about how if we close this one loophole that has allowed private equity and hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than many teachers and firefighters, because they can misclassify their income as capital gains, which is taxed at a lower rate. And they had the gall to claim that if we close this loophole that’s been benefiting the ultra rich that it would somehow cost, I think 4 or 5 million jobs. It’s just laughable what they’re stooping to to try to block these common sense policies that are finally on the table after so many years of the tax debate all being about how can we do more to bend over backwards and help the rich and big corporations. Now we actually have some really meaningful progressive reforms on the table.
Marc Steiner: So I wonder if you could speak to a seeming contradiction between the polls that are saying that the vast majority of Americans want these passed and do want to tax corporations and the wealthy, and all the articles being written about how if this doesn’t go through that the Republicans who are blocking it and the conservative Democrats who were blocking it, will actually benefit more in the next election than progressives. Can you speak to that for a minute?
Sarah Anderson: Yeah, I think part of the polling conundrum is that when people are asked explicitly, what do you think about raising taxes on the wealthy? What do you think about having free community college and extended child tax credits, and those kinds of things, people say, “Wow, that sounds great to me.” But the thing is, most people aren’t even aware that this debate is happening. That’s why I appreciate being on your show to help spread the word. Because once you do talk to people about it, it’s wildly popular, but they’re enormously unaware because there are so many distractions right now. Part of it is really understandable, with COVID, with Afghanistan, with natural disasters and things that people are distracted. And I think we all have a job to do here to make people understand how this could be a turning point in our country.
We’re at a fork in the roads with our economy. Are we going to continue as the world’s richest country, having so many children in poverty and so much on edge, making us so much more vulnerable to crises of all kinds? Or are we going to marshall our vast resources and raise taxes on the people most able to pay and pursue a more equitable path. And it’s hard to watch how little attention this is getting. Also another thing is, nobody’s doing fly-ins to bring people to Washington to lobby their member of Congress, because you can’t get in the buildings because of COVID restrictions. So you really have this sense that there’s a small group of people behind closed doors who are making decisions that are going to have huge impacts on the lives of so many millions of people, and it’s happening without getting the attention it deserves, and without lawmakers having to face, in person, the constituents who have the most benefit from this.
Marc Steiner: That’s interesting. And I didn’t think about the COVID factor, but that clearly is a factor. And I think it adds, as you’re pointing out, to the confusion that most people have in our country as to what’s really going on, because when you add to that the debt ceiling question, people are worried about that, which means a government shutdown. And how does that play into all this do you think?
Sarah Anderson: Yeah, so there is this deadline coming up by which we need to raise the debt ceiling, otherwise we face the prospect of having to default on our national debts. And in normal times, this would be a pretty routine matter because the consequences would be so severe. We’ve never defaulted on our debts, but in our highly polarized situation right now, Republicans are trying to play politics with this. And somehow make people think that, “Oh, we have this big national debt because of what Democrats are proposing to spend in the future.” Even though it’s fully paid for and the national debt has to do with stuff in the past, including the Republican tax cuts in 2017, which cost about $2 trillion. And so they’re playing politics with this, trying to get people really afraid that the debt ceiling deadline will pass, and the stock market could go haywire, and lots of federal programs that people rely on could be cut off.
I think it’s probably theater. I’m hoping that there will be some sanity on Capitol Hill, but there’s all kinds of positioning and grandstanding and theater going on right now. And people really need to just focus on what is most important, and that is that we have a historic once in a generation opportunity here to push forward a plan that can make our country much more equitable, much less insecure in the face of crises like COVID, or other kinds of crises in the future, and strengthen our economy through investments in modern infrastructure to get us away from our fossil fuel dependency. So we need just to keep up the heat on that. And I think that Republicans and Democrats will really start feeling the pressure to do the right thing.
Marc Steiner: So when you think about this, that $3.5 trillion over 10 years, what I realize in reading some pieces this morning, that’s only a 5% increase in our projected spending. Just 5%. As opposed to $9.7 trillion for the Pentagon and expanding their budget. I think there are things like that that are glaring, that are not being given the light of day in our media. And they’re important to do, for people to understand.
Sarah Anderson: Absolutely. We just passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which will keep those huge Pentagon spending levels very high. And so to argue that we don’t have the money to keep children out of poverty, we don’t have the money so that seniors can get glasses, is just absurd. And we need to call them on that and just keep pushing for them to do the right thing.
Marc Steiner: So folks who are listening to this today, first of all, I want to encourage you all to contact your congressmen and senators and let them know how you feel about this vote coming up this coming Thursday in Congress. And it’s really critical. So I want you to think about that. And I always appreciate the work of Sarah Anderson, having her on the program with us. And Sarah, I hope that maybe if time allows, we can gather together after the vote on Friday and do an analysis of what this means. And then we’ll be gathering a panel to talk about how progressives in this country have to unite and come together to address this. How do we do that? What does that mean? And so that’s something we have to explore as well. So Sarah, and just once again, thank you so much for your work and thanks so much for your time today.
Sarah Anderson: Thanks for the opportunity. Take care.
Marc Steiner: I hope you enjoyed that conversation today with Sarah Anderson. She directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute of Policy Studies and is co-editor of inequality.org. Now it’s time for us to go to work and ensure that we take hold of the future, push back corporate America, and ensure our wellbeing. In reliance on fossil fuels, get our kids through college, get decent housing and medical care. We can do our part by letting your congressional representative know what you want them to do.
So, for the US Senate, you go to www.senate.gov/senators/senatorscontact.html. And for the House of Representatives, you’ll log onto www.house.gov/representatives/findyourrepresentative. And on this site, you’ll find the other contacts that Sarah Anderson gave us to let your voice be heard. And while you’re there, if you have an extra minute, stay there and go to realnews.com/support. Become a monthly donor and become part of the future with us. Please let me know what you think about what you heard today, what you’d like us to cover, just write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll write you right back. So for Stephen Frank and the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.