“No one got everything they wanted in the bill, including me,” Joe Biden said Thursday, while unveiling a “framework” for his “Build Back Better” agenda.
It was an understatement. Months of tedious and, at times, acrimonious, negotiations between moderate Democrats and Progressives stripped Biden’s cornerstone social spending plan of so many key elements that the final version is likely to be unrecognizable to the handful of people familiar with the original proposal.
Fortunately, recent polls suggested hardly anyone in the electorate could identify any specifics associated with the plan, so voters aren’t likely to miss what’s gone or otherwise know the difference. That’s the tragic irony for Biden. The same widespread apathy, perceptions of incoherence and ineffective messaging that worked to undermine the legislation’s momentum, mean the public won’t view the stripped down version as the disappointment it almost surely will be.
The package Biden touted Thursday carried a price tag of $1.75 trillion (figure below). For context, Bernie Sanders’s original plan called for $6 trillion and the initial compromise proposal was $3.5 trillion.
By mid-October it was clear that Joe Manchin (one man) was poised to make good on repeated threats (implicit and explicit) to kill the legislation unless it could somehow be chopped all the way down to his $1.5 trillion “red line,” which no one outside The White House and Capitol Hill knew existed until late September, when a July memo to Chuck Schumer leaked to the press.
All of the initiatives that found their way into the framework sound good on paper, but when you read the details, they stop short of the kind of sweeping, straightforward proposals that are easy sells with voters. And even if they didn’t, Democrats somehow couldn’t sell those either, or at least not if you assess the effectiveness of the messaging strategy by the number of provisions voters could name.
On the revenue side, no small businesses or anyone making less than $400,000 per year will see a tax increase. There’s a 15% corporate minimum tax and a 1% surcharge on buybacks. There’s a nod to the OECD push for a global corporate minimum and a promise to “stop rewarding corporations for shipping jobs and profits overseas.”
Also included is a new surtax on multi-millionaires and billionaires. Incomes above $10 million will be subject to a 5% levy and an additional 3% on incomes above $25 million. That’s in addition to the top tax rate. Only 0.02% of filers would be affected.
The figure (below) shows you the breakdown on the offsets.
The White House offered a generic-sounding elevator pitch. “The Build Back Better Act will create millions of good-paying jobs, enable more Americans to join and remain in the labor force, spur long-term growth, reduce price pressures and set the United States on course to meet its clean energy ambitions,” the fact sheet declared.
A separate statement was careful to acknowledge Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. “After hearing input from all sides and negotiating in good faith with Senators Manchin and Sinema, Congressional Leadership and a broad swath of Members of Congress, President Biden is announcing a framework,” The White House said, adding that Biden is “confident [it] can pass both houses of Congress, and he looks forward to signing it into law.”
Biden also called on the House to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressives have refused to support the legislation until the broader social agenda is guaranteed to pass, but as of Thursday afternoon, it was still unclear whether the framework was sufficiently robust to garner support from key House Democrats. “I’m a ‘no’ on infrastructure until we get the other bill,” Ilhan Omar said, on the way to meet with Biden.
Nancy Pelosi pushed Progressives to move ahead with the infrastructure vote. After leaving a Progressive caucus meeting, Omar said that although they’re encouraged by the $1.75 trillion framework, Progressives were unable to offer their votes on the infrastructure package Thursday.
“Details matter. A lot of people don’t know what the ‘bipartisan’ bill consists of (despite the text) and why it’s critical that Build Back Better be paired with it,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, on Wednesday evening, before delivering a lengthy case in point.
“For those who like to call folks like me naive, immature or [say] ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ some of us actually read the text while others get hustled by spin,” she added.
As for public perception, the average American would undoubtedly say the country is everywhere and always being “hustled by spin” when it comes to promises made by elected representatives.
And they’d be right.
Of course, one way to ameliorate that is for voters to educate themselves so they’re less susceptible to spin and hustlers. But that’ll happen around the same time Congress passes a truly transformational fiscal package.