In 1980, Democrats fought a bitter civil war between supporters of President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who took the unusual step of challenging the president of his own party for renomination. Kennedy supporters argued that Carter wasn’t progressive enough. While Carter was renominated, conservative Republican Ronald Reagan won the election.
Carter was certainly a lot more progressive than Reagan. Under the “Reagan Revolution,” Americans suffered through unjustified tax cuts for the rich and corporations that sent the national debt to record heights. We also saw cuts to federal spending on education, the environment and other vital programs. And we got right-wing court appointments and an inadequate response to the AIDS health crisis.
Today we have Democrats fighting with each other again — this time over two progressive, popular and badly needed pieces of legislation. If Democrats in Congress keep up their circular firing squad they won’t accomplish anything, paving the way for Republicans to gain majority control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections and for the possible reelection of Donald Trump as president in 2024.
Democrats need to avert these twin disasters by making commonsense compromises to benefit the American people as well as Democratic candidates in upcoming elections.
The first bill that Democrats are now deadlocked on — already passed by the Senate in a rare bipartisan vote — would spend $1.2 trillion to improve our nation’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, mass transit, airports, railroads, ports, the electric power grid and more.
The second bill is still being negotiated, but it’s on track to bring about the creation of millions of jobs, child tax credits for millions of families, paid family leave, free preschool, lower prescription drug prices, programs to fight catastrophic climate change and more.
Democratic progressives in the House are holding the infrastructure bill hostage to demand passage of a sufficiently large second bill, encompassing President Biden’s Build Back Better program. My preference would be for members of my party to take a win and pass the infrastructure bill as soon as possible, and then come together to reach a compromise on Build Back Better.
The Build Back Better bill is popular among voters. A Navigator Research poll conducted in September found that 66% of Americans support the plan when its key components are spelled out, including 93% of Democrats, 61% of independents, and even 39% of Republicans.
Media attention on Build Back Better has focused on the original price tag of $3.5 trillion, while rarely pointing out this was the projected cost over 10 years — meaning $350 billion annually.
Congressional Democrats are now negotiating among themselves to find a lower price tag for Build Back Better that virtually all House Democrats and every single Democratic senator can support.
While 48 Senate Democrats want to spend the full $3.5 trillion, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia wants to spend only $1.5 trillion and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona also wants to spend less than most Democrats want.
It looks like the final figure will come out slightly under $2 trillion. That’s lower than I would like and unfortunately will require major cuts. But even the downsized measure would be a major investment of historic size in a better future for all Americans. We’re certainly better off with a bill of close to $2 trillion than with no bill at all.
President Biden is working hard to get Manchin and Sinema to sign on to a compromise bill. As he said on a CNN town hall Thursday night, with only 50 Democrats in the 100-member Senate, “everyone is a president.” If even one Democratic senator refuses to go along with a compromise bill the bill can’t be passed.
My advice to President Biden is to convene a Democratic summit with Manchin, Sinema, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, House Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and whoever else the president thinks is needed to come up with a compromise that no one will love but everyone will accept.
Nothing would make Republicans happier than for Democratic internal feuding to kill both the infrastructure and the Build Back Better bills. Republicans are terrified that if the two bills become law they would be so popular that Democrats would keep control of Congress in the 2022 and 2024 elections and the White House in 2024.
So Republicans have made it clear they will oppose both bills — including opposition in the House to the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate.
Let’s face it: Most Republicans in Congress have adopted then-first lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug slogan of “Just Say No” to almost everything Biden and congressional Democrats propose. They want America to fail and Americans to suffer to pave the way for GOP election victories. This is a shameful anti-American position that puts politics over patriotism.
For the sake of our country, the American people, the Democratic Party and their own political futures, Sens. Manchin and Sinema and Democratic progressive in Congress must make a deal and pass President Biden’s bills on infrastructure and Build Back Better. What counts in politics as in life isn’t how hard you fight, but what you achieve.
Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile
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