As conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema imperil Democrats’ $3.5 trillion dollar infrastructure package, leading progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, held a virtual town hall on Oct. 20 pitching the historic spending plan that would increase spending on healthcare, climate protections, higher education, labor protections, healthcare, and more—spending that would directly impact the lives of American people.
Sanders stressed that the proposal would be paid for by taxing the rich.
“You know, we’re gonna pay for it, we’re going to do away with the enormous amounts of tax breaks and avoidance that the wealthiest 1% of the billionaire class have experienced,” he said. “You got the richest people in this country who, in a given year, pay zero in federal income tax.”
The panelists called out the corporate media for focusing its coverage on the fight between progressives and conservative Democrats, often characterizing the former’s demands as too expensive or unreasonable, while giving little attention to what the bill actually contains and the tangible support it would provide to flesh-and-blood human beings.
“Oh, you know, these progressives and their pipe dreams of trying to expand Medicare, so that the elderly can be able to also get dental care, or vision, or hearing aids” said Ocasio-Cortez, sarcastically paraphrasing opponents. Pushing back against the notion that progressives are the ones being unreasonable by supporting provisions that would make good on Democrats’ campaign promises to voters, Ocasio-Cortez remarked, “It’s not crazy, and it’s not a pipe dream, and it’s not something that is … beyond the possible.”
The Democrat-controlled House passed the proposal, but despite Democrats’ narrow 51-50 majority in the Senate, Manchin and Sinema, who have received millions from the fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries, have blocked passage of the bill, arguing it’s too expensive while failing to offer an alternative.
President Biden is expected to pare down the bill by as much as half, to $1.75 trillion, the New York Times reported Wednesday. The $3.5 trillion plan (which amounts to $3.5 trillion spread out over 10 years) is an already pared-down version of the $6 trillion Biden originally proposed.
Panelists urged the public to pressure Congress to not cut key components of the bill, stressing that the stakes could not be higher.
“This bill is about the trajectory of the country for the next 20 years… So young people need to be fully engaged, because if you lose this, it undermines the other things we need to do for the future. If you win this, it creates the stepping stone,” said Barber. He also noted the bill lacked a racial analysis.
“I would suggest a congressman, early next week, come out with a racial analysis; how does this impact Latinos? How does this bill impact Native Americans? How does this bill affect African Americans?” said Barber.
Polls show the majority of Americans and Democrats support President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. “Likely voters support the Investment Infrastructure and Jobs Act by a +47-point margin (69 percent support, 22 percent oppose). Support for this bill extends across self-identifying partisan lines, with Democrats, Independents, and Republicans backing the bill by margins of +70, +47, and +21 points, respectively,” said a Data for Progress poll released Sept. 1.
That poll also found all likely voters support the individual provisions of the $3.5 trillion dollar proposal, such as investments in long-term care, modernizing the electricity grid, modernizing K-12 schools, universal Pre-K, and more.
“To me the truly radical thing to do on an issue like climate would be to do nothing,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of Sunrise Movement. “Specifically on climate, if we can deliver on the kind of commitments that are in this bill, we can move this nation to decrease our missions and our mission as a nation, 50%, by 2030, and specifically we could do that by investing in jobs for young people, which could unlock potentially thousands or millions of jobs in the future.”