By Nicholas Stender
The effort to pass the Build Back Better plan — the package of social and environmental measures most crucial to the political fortunes of the Biden administration — has been completely upended due to both the anti-worker intransigence of the Democratic Party’s right wing and the blundering weakness of its leadership. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced late last week on Fox News that he would not vote in favor of the Biden administration’s signature domestic policy programs. This put a humiliating end to months of personal negotiations between himself and Joe Biden, and according to the administration was a betrayal of a verbal agreement made between Manchin and the president on Dec. 14.
The Biden administration has several domestic policy areas that they have been focusing on. For one, they have tried to get an infrastructure deal done with the Republican party to fix some of the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, water pipes, aquifers and more. After concession upon concession, the final infrastructure deal comes with substantial handouts to the wealthy in the form of “public-private partnerships”. These schemes privatize profits and socialize risk. The $579 billion infrastructure bill is a joke considering the decrepit state of U.S. infrastructure.
Another domestic focus of the Biden administration has been the Build Back Better Act. Initially rolled out as a series of much-needed social programs totaling $3.5 trillion dollars over 10 years, the Build Back Better Act was whittled down until it was worth less than $2 trillion dollars. Joe Manchin led the charge in the Senate against expanding public education, childcare programs, financial assistance to parents, initiatives to combat climate change, and other important measures initially included in the bill.
Despite citing a bogus concern for the impact that such a bill would have on the budget and inflation, Manchin’s opposition to the bill is really due to the fact that he is in principle against any measures that would make the lives of the working class better. On Monday, Manchin noted how he and progressive Democrats are “far apart philosophically” on the need for social spending to support a struggling working class.
Only a movement can win
The growth of social movements over the past decade like Occupy Wall Street, the movement for Black lives, Fight for $15, a resurgent labor movement, the struggle against climate change, and the Bernie Sanders campaign have opened peoples’ eyes to the need for a new program to address the multiple crises facing the working class. The fact that Biden, a loyal servant of capitalism, would be forced to stake his presidency on a social welfare bill speaks to the power of people’s movements.
The Democratic Party has not lifted a finger to activate the huge number of people who support this program. “Good faith” discussions with Manchin are as effective as speaking to a wall. The Biden administration wasted valuable time conducting secret, backroom negotiations with Manchin when conditions called for organizing a movement to force the passage of the bill. Patience with avowed enemies of poor and working people like Manchin has gone nowhere.
Democratic Party humiliated
Over the months, Democrats have categorically refused to discipline the recalcitrant members of their party. Manchin could be made to face a primary challenge, zero campaign money from the Democratic National Committee, “no” votes on any of his sponsored legislation, and expulsion from committee assignments. Instead he was treated with praise and genuflection from Biden, who frequently assured the public that he and Manchin were good friends.
The inability or unwillingness to discipline Manchin shows that the Democratic Party does not see the lives of its constituents as important enough to break the rules of decorum in their elite club, where disagreements are handled behind closed doors. The Democratic party has shown itself to be led by weak-willed cowards with an utter lack of strategic vision. This debacle reveals how nobody is really in charge.
Unless the necessary public pressure on Manchin materializes, the breakdown in social program negotiations deals a major blow to Democrats’ chances in the midterm elections. Biden’s approval rating is at 42%, especially low considering that Biden is still in his first year in office. Repeated broken promises and betrayals of working class voters’ interests will not drive people to the polls in 2022, no matter how odious the Republican Party might be.
Time is quickly running out to revive the possibility that working people will see any relief at all in the form of new federal social programs, or that any type of meaningful action will be taken to mitigate the ravages of climate change. Only the intervention of huge numbers of people can succeed where elite politicians have so woefully failed.
The above article was originally published here by Liberation, the Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.