Build Back Better and How to Pass Major Legislation

Dr. Louis Perron
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Build Back Better will not become law. At least not for the moment. Joe Manchin, arguably the most influential Democrat right now, finally made up his mind and pulled the trigger before Christmas.

There were some harsh reactions to Joe Manchin’s decision not to support Joe Biden’s signature bill. People on the left and on the right often see centrism as wishy-washy or even betrayal. They thereby ignore that one can feel equally strong about a centrist position as they feel about theirs.

If President Joe Biden could have gotten it passed, it would actually have been a major political accomplishment. The majority in the House is extremely narrow and the Senate is a tie. As a result of this, Democrats literally need everybody of their diverse caucus to pass something alone. Just for comparison purposes, Democrats had a majority of 60 respectively 59 members in the Senate when Barack Obama passed the Affordable Care Act. And Donald Trump could not repeal it when Republicans had a majority of 52 in the Senate.

This being said, I think Build Back Better was flawed in many ways, to be begin with the title. Expanding the social security net and fighting climate change are both honorable causes, but I don’t associate them with getting out of a pandemic. In the Sunday talk shows Democrats said that they are bad at messaging. Other than the fact that politicians always say that when they are on the defense and face headwinds, I agree. They indeed are really bad at messaging because all they talked about with respect to Build Back Better during the past months was the price tag. Is it the 5 trillion, the 3 trillion or the 1.9 trillion bill? It was actually quite a mismatch between political demand and offer as voters’ top concern at the moment are rising costs.

Next year, Americans will head to the polls for the midterm elections. At this point, it looks likely that Democrats will lose their majority in the House. This might make it even more difficult for President Biden to pass his agenda. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ronald Reagan governed happily together with the Democratic majority in congress. Bill Clinton arranged himself with Republicans after they won the midterm elections. And in fact, in the past, major reforms such as civil rights legislation, the federal highway system, social security reform, welfare reform and more recently infrastructure all passed with bipartisan support.

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