The Reconciliation Bill’s Gutting is What Happens When Your Party is a Capitalist Party
President Joe Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — now whittled down to $1.5 trillion, nearly half its original size — has been so watered down and compromised as to be absolutely worthless. Certainly, it has little to offer working-class Americans. Progressive provisions like higher taxes on the wealthy, lower prescription drug costs, elimination of some student debt, and crucial measures to combat climate change have all been chipped away from the bill — or removed altogether.
As liberal podcaster, Kyle Kulinski jokingly tweeted on Oct. 27, the so-called “Build Back Better” bill is now little more than an “expired coupon for Denny’s.”
As of this writing, the following items have been eliminated from the reconciliation bill:
- Paid family and medical leave. Biden’s bill originally called for 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave. This was then whittled down to four weeks. It has now been eliminated, entirely. The U.S. is the only country in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity or sick leave.
- Two years of free community college.
- Medicare expansion to include hearing, vision, and dental coverage.
- Authorization for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.
- A child tax credit of $250 a month and $300 a month for children six-years-old or under.
- Any tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.
Perhaps the most significant cuts are those intended for climate-change mitigation. Of the $555 billion directed toward climate change, $320 billion is in the form of tax-credits and subsidies to electric-vehicle manufacturers. Another $110 billion goes toward subsidies for producers of “solar, batteries and advanced materials.” As the World Socialist Web Site notes, such “advanced materials” are “of great concern for the Pentagon.”
These environmental budgetary cuts come on the heels of the warmest summer ever recorded. Devastating wildfires engulfed the Pacific Northwest, while Europe experienced record flooding. Despite increasingly dire warnings from scientists that we must drastically reduce greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, the ruling class continues to fiddle as the planet quite literally burns.
So much, it seems, for “Vote Blue No Matter Who”…
“Moderate Democrats”…? The Entire Democratic Party is Right-Wing
While it is tempting to pin all of the blame for this bare bones bill on “moderate” (read: right-wing) Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten (“Girl Boss”) Sinema (D-AZ), in many respects these two prominent senators are convenient scapegoats. In truth, the entire Democratic Party is to blame for the bill’s shortcomings.
By fighting Manchin and Sinema’s more right-wing agenda, Biden and the rest of the party establishment can paint themselves as more progressive than they are. They can also use Sinema and Manchin as an excuse for watered-down policy while retaining their … reformist rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the “progressive” Democrats — Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, etc. — serve as a fake left plank in order to corral disaffected working-class voters back into the Democratic Party fold. While I do not doubt their noble intentions, “progressive” Democrats like Sanders and the members of “the Squad” serve to reinforce the fiction that leftists can “take over” the Democratic Party through electoral politics. Indeed, this strategy is the Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) entire raison d’etre.
If the left-wing faction of the Democratic Party were at all independent from the party leadership or exercised any degree of principled opposition to it, its members would vote against the reconciliation bill. It does not deserve their support. Sadly, all indications suggest that Sanders, AOC, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and the rest will dutifully stand in line and vote for this lousy legislation, all the while championing its “historic gains.”
Likewise, “progressive” Democrats have made no effort to mobilize their vast constituency to organize against the Build Back Better bill. Where is the opposition from the DSA or the Sunrise Movement?
Jacobin magazine — the de-facto mouthpiece of the DSA — offers cover for the Democrats by blaming the concessions on the abstract bogeyman of “big money in politics.” David Sirota, editor-at-large for Jacobin, and a senior advisor to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, recently published an article titled, “The Reconciliation Bill’s Gutting is What Happens When Your Party is Addicted to Corporate Money.”
While there is no doubt that the Democrats — like the Republicans — are primarily funded by corporate money, absent from the article is any acknowledgment that the Democratic Party is, in fact, a capitalist party. It is beholden, not to working-class voters, but to Wall Street, the Pentagon, Silicon Valley, and the bourgeoisie. Working-class people need their own political party.
It is not for nothing that the Democratic Party has been called “history’s second most-enthusiastic capitalist party.”
And yet, despite all of the cuts and concessions made (ostensibly) to win over Manchin, the West Virginia senator has recently hinted that he still may not vote for the reconciliation package, after all! In other words, the Democrats should have simply presented the bill, in its original $3.5 trillion price tag, to the Senate for an up-or-down vote. But then, Biden did forthrightly inform voters, from the very beginning of his campaign, that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency.
Democrats Sound the Alarm for 2022 Midterms
All of this is likely to spell disaster for the Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections. Demoralized working-class voters will likely stay home on Election Day — thus, paving the way for the Republicans to take back control of Congress. Indeed, Tuesday’s election results in Virginia, in which Trumpist Republican Glenn Youngkin became the first Republican governor of the state in over a decade, could prove to be an ominous warning to the Democrats.
In fact, we have seen this movie before. Republicans previously swept the Democrats out of Congress during the 2010 midterm elections. After two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, with little to show for it other than a right-wing, corporate-designed health care plan, working-class voters felt betrayed and apathetic. The right was able to channel that voter apathy — along with, admittedly, a good deal of racism at the country’s first black president— into the faux-populist “movement” that was the Tea Party.
Elections Alone Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Yet Tuesday’s elections also took place under the backdrop of a string of national strikes (in what has been dubbed “Striketober”) and a mass withholding of labor in the form of the “Great Resignation.” The much-bemoaned “labor shortage” is really a shortage of safe, rewarding jobs that pay workers what their labor power is worth.
These strikes show that it is class-struggle — not necessarily voting — that truly brings about improved living conditions for working-class people. This is the first lesson socialists should take away from the Democrats’ latest debacle. As the late historian Howard Zinn famously wrote, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is ‘sitting-in’ — and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”
The second lesson is the urgent need for the left to finally and completely cut ties with the capitalist Democratic Party. We do not need a “dirty-break.” We need a clean break right here and now.
The left has spent the last six years pouring money, time, resources, and activist energy into Democratic Party elections — specifically, in the form of Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns. Don’t get me wrong: Sanders should absolutely be applauded for helping to radicalize an entire generation of young people, and for finally erasing the decades-long stigma associated with the word “socialism.”
Nonetheless, both of his bids for the presidency were thwarted by the Democratic Party establishment. It is long past time for the left to abandon this fantasy of “taking over” the Democratic Party and begin the long, arduous, painfully difficult work of establishing our own political party. Only then can the working-class realize all the victories that are rightfully ours.