It’s really hard to be a Democrat these days. Yes, at the moment, we have a slim majority in the House of Representatives and the slenderest of margins in the Senate. Joe Biden is our president. All of this contributes to why it is especially important now for Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to join their fellow Democrats and support the Build Back Better Act.
Everything comes with difficulty for Democrats. It’s not like with the Republicans where there is a myriad of ways to say no, to obstruct, to negate, to undermine. Democrats have to deal with a real diversity of opinions within their ranks and focus on constructing policy rather than destructing programs.
In 2009-10, Democrats had a slim workable majority in Congress and were able to pass the Affordable Care Act. It was a significant step forward, but because of literally no help from Republicans and some dissension within their ranks, it was a watered-down version of the bill that President Barack Obama wanted. It did not include the public option which would have given citizens the right to choose a government-sponsored health care program that would have been more affordable than others because unlike private plans, it did not involve make a profit for the insurer. Despite the absence of the public option, the ACA was the biggest new federal program passed since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Right now, there is an opportunity for Democrats to once again pass major legislation. They have done so with the COVID-related American Rescue Plan and then the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But there is a third piece of legislation that will really strengthen the social and economic safety net that was created in President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and then the Great Society. It is the Build Back Better Act.
This omnibus bill is a remarkable proposal that provides comprehensive benefits for everyone from infants to the very elderly. Once again, it appears that there will be no help in the Senate in passing the bill. And, if history serves us right, next year’s mid-term elections will see one or both houses of Congress revert to the Republicans. That will put an end to any meaningful social, economic and human rights legislation that Joe Biden wants to pass.
This is why now is not the time for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to not jack around Biden, Congressional Democrats and the American people. We have a window of opportunity that is almost certain to shut after next year’s elections. Currently, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and others can go to Manchin and Sinema and ask them to support the Build Back Better Act. Manchin in particular has shown a willingness to meet, even at inconvenient hours. He hears, though we don’t know how well he listens. But this is the time for him to accept the wins that he has already accomplished (including reduction of the bill by more than a trillion dollars). He could still qualify to be TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year because he has perhaps had more influence of the US, if not the world, than any other person. TIME awards the honor whether the change effected by the recipient is positive or negative.
After the 2022 mid-terms, Democrats will likely be in the minority. Any talks between Biden and Congressional leaders with Manchin or Sinema will be meaningless. As the political pendulum has swung in recent years, there may not be another opportunity for a decade or more.
So, Joe and Kyrsten, whether your really are Democrats or not, now is the time to at least pretend to be one and help the party in this infrequent window of opportunity. Tomorrow’s next chance is far too far off.