Democrats Need to Recalibrate on BBB

The headline of the opinion piece in the New York Times this week read, “Joe Manchin has given Democrats a chance to save their agenda.”

Democrats, stung by the West Virginia Senator’s rebuke of the Build Back Better Act, should read it and take it to heart.

Ben Ritz, director of the Progressive Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future—and left-center organization, writes that “Democrats may not realize it, but Mr. Manchin may well have given them a gift.”

That gift, according to Ritz, is the chance to get something done.

The Build Back Better Act, as it stands now, is a failure.  If Senate Democrats force a vote on the measure in January it will only spark more doubt about President Biden’s ability to lead.

Instead, Ritz suggests, progressives should pick out parts of the act that are most important, figure out a way to make them permanent and fully funded, then work to get those through Congress

“Many worthwhile policy ambitions, such as creating a national paid family leave program or extending the recent expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which has already lifted millions of children out of poverty, will need to be dramatically scaled back or halted altogether,” Ritz writes.

“But the policies that do get enacted will be more successful, more popular, and more durable as a result, which can help lay the groundwork for building on them in the future.”

William Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, and former advisor to President Bill Clinton, sounded a similar theme on the opinion page in the Wall Street Journal.

“There is a road not taken,” Galston wrote.  “Democrats could choose to fund one or a few of BBB’s programs for the long term while staying within the spending limits moderates are willing to accommodate.”

That approach was also reflected in a statement issued by the moderate New Democratic Coalition of House of Representatives members way back in August.

“New Dems are focused on advancing legislation that prioritizes doing a few things well for longer, over many things for short periods with near-term cliffs or significant delays,” they said.

Progressives pushed Build Back Better with an all-of-the-above wish list calculating that they could use the reconciliation process to fundamentally alter the relationship of government to the people.  There was talk of a new New Deal.

They failed.  It is time to pick a new strategy.

A more modest approach of popular and fully-funded programs, debated and refined through the regular order of business by way of the committee process, would be a refreshing change from the scorched-earth demagoguery from both sides on BBB.  That is how Congress crafted and passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this year that received bi-partisan support. The bill proved the process can work.

Campaigning is all about what you want to do, while governing is about what you are able to do.  Progressives can continue to bash Joe Manchin and feel self-satisfied, or they can acknowledge the political realities and try to get something done.



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