The legislative process is rarely pretty in the best of times, never mind in times like these. Many people console themselves with this reality by quoting Otto von Bismarck, the pragmatic Prussian politician who, among other things, was the first chancellor of the German Empire from 1871 to 1890.
He is often erroneously quoted as saying “Laws are like sausages. It is best not to see them being made.” There has been a lot of sausage making going on in full view at the White House and in Congress over the last several months on the President’s Build Back Better legislation.
When a big bill makes its way through Congress, it highlights political divisions and can seem disconnected from the average American’s life. The Biden administration’s quest for a legislatively viable version of its Build Back Better agenda is an example.
Several of the administration’s promises have been abandoned in the new package, such as free community college and instituting a clean electricity standard with penalties for utilities that don’t comply. Senator Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, kneecapped the provision to retire coal and natural gas plants.
Other programs that were initially going to be permanent will instead be set to expire in a year or two or five, like the expanded child tax credit and expanding Medicaid in the 12 states that have not already done so. It merits noting that once entitlement programs are established, they are famously difficult to repeal.
Still, the $1.75 trillion package contains a wide-ranging set of programs such as universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds, subsidized child care that caps what parents pay at 7% of their income, expanded Medicare to cover the cost of hearing benefits, and expanded tax credits for 10 years for utility and residential clean energy to reduce pollution, including electric vehicles. Also notable is that although an overwhelming majority of Americans favor government action like Medicare negotiating with drug companies to reduce drug prices, that policy in not in the proposed legislation.
While the White House claims the legislation would not add to the deficit because of tax increases on corporations and the affluent, finding the taxes to pay for this package is proving difficult. For example, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, is opposed to increasing the corporate tax to 25% or 26% and raising personal income tax rates. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is now proposing annual taxes on billionaires for unrealized capital gains on stocks that have not even been sold and received as income.
According to an analysis from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, the proposed new taxes and tax increases to pay for the $1.75 trillion bill would raise nearly $470 billion less than the White House claims.
With the President out of the country, Democrats are arguing among themselves over the details of the legislation. House progressives are adamant about requiring the bill to be a done deal before they will vote for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has been passed by the Senate because they don’t trust moderate Democrats to keep their word.
As the late, great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” So, the public sausage making, also known as lawmaking, will continue on Capitol Hill over the President’s Build Back Better legislation. As always, the devil is in the details.