One of the persistent criticisms we tend to hear about the Democratic handling of the human infrastructure bill they are negotiating among themselves is that nobody really knows what’s in it. The Democrats haven’t done a good job, the story goes, of selling the bill by explaining its details and the impact it will have on the everyday lives of Americans.
This critique is typically coupled with the ominous foreboding that the Biden presidency will be doomed if the Democrats do not pass a substantial piece of legislation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This foreboding of Donald Trump or any Republican ascending to the presidency, or of the Republicans assuming a majority in any chamber of Congress, is indeed ominous, terrifying.
But, still, isn’t there a more efficacious perspective to cultivate here?
The political dynamic the media tends to frame is that if the Democrats somehow fail and don’t pass a substantial human infrastructure bill that yields results the American people can tangibly feel, then they are doomed because Americans will flock to vote for the Republican alternative or, perhaps equally damaging to the Democrats’ chances, not turn out to vote.
Now, again, don’t get me wrong. This scenario could happen. If it happens, though, the media’s rather distorted framing of this legislative dynamic will no doubt play a significant role in clouding the public’s understanding of their interests and of what’s really happening in Washington.
To explain what I mean, let’s start with some of what is in the bill.
Well, admittedly, it’s hard to know what exactly is or will be in the bill. We hear, for example, that tuition-free access to community college will likely not make it into the bill.
But when it comes to educational policy, here’s what we do know as when it comes to assessing the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats at least have on their radar and understand the need and benefits of making post-secondary education accessible to all. During the Trump administration, budget proposals invariably called for massive cuts to Pell grants and other forms of financial assistance for college students. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sided unanimously with for-profit educational institutions that defrauded individual Americans of tens of thousands of dollars while leaving them without degrees.
When it comes to funding Pre-K education for America’s children, the Democrats largely support doing so and funding for this measure seems likely to stay in the bill.
Republicans have nothing to say about funding childcare or Pre-K education—well, except no—even though we know funding childcare and early education is an investment that helps the economy, enabling parents to work and shaping children who become healthier, smarter, more productive, and self-sufficient adults.
So, if Democrats fail to pass this legislation because the likes of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (two Republican wolves in Democratic sheep’s clothing) block it, is the rational alternative for voters to turn to Republicans when it’s impossible to point to one humane legislative achievement in the past four years that actually supported American lives in a positive way?
Or, is the alternative to seek to elect more Democrats of the progressive variety to counteract Manchin, Sinema, and the rest of the Republicans so Americans can get the support they need and deserve in a more equitable society?
The media doesn’t talk much about this latter alternative. The dominant focus is on whether Democrats will succeed or not, and Republicans are let off the hook for their abject failure to govern, to take their responsibility to Americans seriously, and to show any shred of concern for human life.
We know enough of what’s in the bill.
We know there will be measures to address climate change. Maybe we don’t know exactly which measures will be funded, but we know they will be better than what we’re doing now and better than what the Republicans have to offer, which is more disregard for the environment.
We know there will be support for America’s children and their education, even if we don’t know exactly what.
We know there will likely be paid family leave, even if we don’t know exactly how much.
We know the measures will be paid for through some form of taxation on the wealthiest and corporations.
And when companies raked in hundreds of billions in profits, often paying little to nothing in taxes, is there really much objection to such measures, except from Republicans?
When Trump slashed corporate tax rates from 35 to 21 percent, we were told, as usual, that these tax cuts would pay for themselves, create an economy that enriches us all.
These tax cuts benefited the wealthy and did not trickle down, despite Trump’s promises that companies would invest in workers and not cut jobs. Companies like AT&T, Wells Fargo, and General Motors lobbied for them, promising to re-invest their tax savings in their workers and companies to the benefit off the nation as a whole. And yet all of these companies then engaged in massive layoffs or plant closings. AT&T has eliminated over 23,000 jobs since the tax cuts went into effect, despite receiving a $21 billion windfall from the tax cuts with the prospect of cashing in an additional $3 billion annually in tax savings. In November 2018, GM announced it would be closing five plants, eliminating 14,000 jobs in communities across Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, while buying back $10 billion in stock and earning a net profit of $8 billion on which the company paid no federal tax. Other automakers also slashed thousands of jobs, saving billions of dollars.Wells Fargo did raise the minimum wage of its employees, though the tax savings for the company were 47 times larger than the cost of that pay raise to the company; and the company announced its plans in September 2018 to eliminate 26,000 jobs, at the same time that it has raised health insurance costs for its employees.
We know what’s in the bill: attempts to make a more equitable society that sustains and supports the health and well-being of Americans and our environment.
And we know at least the Democrats are trying to help, not work against, Americans as the Republicans are.
This is the story our media needs to tell.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.