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  • Cole Whittington

Build Back Better: President Biden’s Domestic Agenda Hangs in the Balance as Midterms Near

With the 2022 midterm elections quickly approaching, the success of President Joe Biden’s domestic spending plan becomes an integral part of the Democratic Party maintaining control over the House of Representatives and the Senate. Although rising inflation and the Omicron variant case surge marred his first year, the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, two-thirds of the Biden campaign plan Build Back Better, has been signed into law. Yet, the third portion remains stalled in the Senate at the same time.

Policy: What is Build Back Better?

Before his inauguration, President Biden proposed the Build Back Better platform, which includes funding for three parts: a Coronavirus relief package, an infrastructure bill, and welfare and social programs.

The American Rescue Plan, which addressed the economic fallout of the pandemic, was passed on March 11, 2021, with no Republicans voting in favor. The bill included a third round of stimulus checks for Americans, extended unemployment insurance, and support for small businesses, among other provisions. The ARP was passed using a process known as budget reconciliation which allows the expedition of bills pertaining to tax, spending, and the debt limit legislation. The process, created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, is not subjected to filibuster, meaning reconciliation bills can pass with a simple majority in the Senate (or with a tie and the tie-breaker vote of the Vice President).

The second portion of the plan was labeled the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which was signed into law on November 15, 2021, passing the House with a vote of 228-206 along party lines. However, months earlier, the nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed the Senate with a vote of 69-30, with 19 Republicans voting in favor, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). This bill included:

  • Funding for repairing roads and bridges ($110 billion)

  • Ensured access to high-speed internet ($65 billion)

  • Investment in public transit to decrease greenhouse gas emissions ($39 billion)

  • A national network of EV charging stations ($7.5 billion)

  • Making our infrastructure resilient against attacks and the effects of climate change, including weather events

The proposed Build Back Better Act, not to be confused with the broader agenda, invests in social infrastructure, including our education system and healthcare. The House passed this bill back in November but has been blocked in the Senate, preventing it from reaching the desk of President Biden.

Politics: What has been the reaction?

The Trump Administration passed two bipartisan stimulus packages designed to fight the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the American Rescue Plan faced fierce opposition from Republicans. Critics on the right argued that the bill was unaffordable and would lead to inflation. McConnell described the bill as a “classic example of big government Democratic overreach in the name of COVID relief,” and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) wrote it off as a “wish list for liberal spending.”

On the other side of the aisle, many progressive House Democrats criticized the American Rescue Plan for not including an amendment to increase the federal minimum wage. However, all but two, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), voted in favor of the bill.

The infrastructure bill was an even bigger partisan battle despite the policy area historically winning the support of both Republicans and Democrats. Many Trump loyalists attacked the 19 Republican senators and 13 Republican representatives who voted in favor of the bill. For example, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) called them “RINOS” (Republican In Name Only), a common term used by Republicans to delegitimize their fellow GOP colleagues. Going even further, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) described the Republicans who voted in favor of the bill as “traitors” and accused them of putting China above the interests of Americans.

Possibilities: What will happen before the Midterm Elections in November?

With this third and final piece of legislation still looming, two moderate Democrats in the Senate become critical players in the bill's passage. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are the two biggest obstacles to the Build Back Better Act reaching President Biden’s desk. At the beginning of February, Manchin described the Build Back Better Act as “dead,” saying that all new programs must be permanent and financed if they wanted to receive his vote. His concern is the ever-increasing national debt that recently surpassed $30 trillion. On the other hand, Sinema has expressed opposition to an increase in the corporate minimum tax rate that would help fund the bill permanently. This contradiction means Democrats have many obstacles to overcome to pass the social spending bill considering they need both senators’ votes if all 50 Republican senators vote against it. Nonetheless, President Biden remains confident that the bill will pass.

McConnell has helped deliver critical victories for the Democrats by voting for the infrastructure bill and raising the debt ceiling, which prevented a potentially catastrophic economic collapse. This enraged President Trump and even led to him calling for Republicans to oust McConnell from his Senate leadership post. However, his support of this final piece of legislation is unlikely.

With the highest inflation the country has seen in 40 years and the continued presence of the COVID-19 virus, the completion of the Build Back Better agenda is essential to Democrats building an impressive midterm campaign. Similarly, if Republicans manage to kill the social spending bill, they put themselves in a prime position to take back the House and even-split Senate.

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