By holding out, progressives still won
A number of Republican elected public officials now seem willing to subvert their oath of allegiance to the American democracy in order to restrict the impact of the growing power of Black citizens. In order to combat this defiance of constitutional rights, Blacks have to become more sophisticated about politics. It is no longer enough to show up at the polls on Election Day. For example, the difficulty involved in passing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill provides some idea of the emerging complexities.
In order for a bill to become a federal law, it must be approved by a qualifying vote in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives before it is signed into law by the president. Since there was considerable interest in repairing roads, bridges, airports and other deteriorating facilities across the country, there was support for the infrastructure bill in the 100-member Senate that at present is equally divided functionally between Democrats and Republicans.
However, progressives, who were a wing of the Democrats in the House, refused to vote for the infrastructure bill unless they were assured that the Senate would also approve President Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal that provides $3.5 trillion for climate change as well as funds for childcare, education, additional Medicare benefits and other programs to benefit impoverished or working-class Americans. This provision was being held up by two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
There was considerable open debate between the progressive Democrats and the two objecting senators that created the popular impression that Congress never gets anything done and the Democrats are a political party at war with itself. In fact, contrary to the public opinion generated by press accounts, heated public discussion on political issues is democracy at its best.
Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the 435 member House, with 220 Democrats and 215 Republicans. Despite opposition from the progressives, Pelosi called the vote to end the negative criticism of the Democratic Party. She won 228 to 206. She knew she would lose six votes from the progressives, but she picked up 13 Republican votes.
With an inflation scare rising, the size of the “Build Back Better” bill will probably be reduced, or it may not be seriously considered at all. The 55-member Congressional Black Caucus supported Pelosi’s decision, even though some of its members are also part of the progressives, and “Build Back Better” proposals may not survive.