The process drags on, negotiations over a gargantuan federal infrastructure bill and a – what word supersedes gargantuan? — $3.5 trillion spending spree. Congressional progressives are now threatening to let the bipartisan infrastructure package die on the vine if they don’t get every last superfluous penny of their $3.5 trillion leftist daydream. Now a handful of centrist moderate Democrats on the Hill are signaling that they may be perfectly okay with that, which warms the heart and bolsters a spirit that flags when contemplating the magnitude of the proposals.
Comforting, because amid the cynicism that pervades all things political, there remains a hope that in at least a few cases the reluctance is born not of purely political calculation but of actual, principled concern over the enormity of the policy being considered; a recognition that the ship of state is drifting into the shoals and a refusal to continue to help steer it there. Joe Manchun seems at least partially motivated by such concern, perhaps even Kyrsten Sinema and Maggie Hassan. And God love ‘em for it.
That said, this is still politics, and political considerations are never long absent from the minds of those elected to congress, including those nervous centrists who are beginning to push back against their party’s insurgent revolutionary recklessness.
And nervous they should be. November 2022 remains more than a year away, a veritable lifetime in politics, but the signs are there and are nagging; President Biden is desperately unpopular at the moment, and while, lamentably, the atrocity of the Afghanistan debacle will likely have faded from collective voting memory by then, the hits keep on coming; the mismanagement of the border crisis, a flaccid speech at the UN, troubling economic numbers – add in a couple megatons onto the national debt, pernicious tax increases, and inflation, all for a laundry list of indefensible initiatives, and you have a pretty good recipe for electoral disaster, especially if you are a self-described moderate in a swing district.
Co-conspiring with the $3.5 trillion budget package is the $2.1 trillion tax plan passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee last week, including an increase in the corporate income tax rate which the Congressional Joint Tax Committee has tried pointing out will be paid mainly by lower-and-moderate income taxpayers. Illustrative of the absurdity that permeates Washington D.C., it is being sold on the premise that it is not as bad as the President previously had wished, going up merely from the current 21% to 26.5% instead of 28%, and you’re welcome. Wonderful, but the increase to 26.5% still places the U.S. rate well above that of most of our global competitors, and that’s before taking into account local and state corporate taxes, the cumulative effect of which will be to make the American corporate tax rate the highest in the industrialized world. (This, by the way, includes the People’s Republic of China; you know, that country across the ocean that the President went to awkward pains not to mention during his speech to the UN – even to call them out for their outsized contribution to climate change, not to mention their systemic human rights abuses, aggression towards their neighbors, that sort of thing. I do digress.)
There are other tax increases in the works as well, including higher individual rates, a 3.8% surtax on small business income, elimination of the 20% deduction on qualified business income, and a slashing of the estate tax exemption. No matter how these are spun, they are going to be difficult to sell to the public, especially as small businesses get hammered, the economy slows, and inflation – which is a tax on anyone who buys anything – continues to gestate. It will be increasingly difficult to sell all this as “eating the rich” when it is lower- and middle-income folks who are being digested.
The progressive wing has been having a heyday of late bullying the rest of the Democratic Party – particularly brazen given their razor-thin margins in both chambers of Congress. Moderate Democrats may have just about had enough of it, faced with legislative monstrosities like the House tax and spending proposals. One of the Progressives, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.) recently confirmed that she and her colleagues would have no compunction about killing the infrastructure package if they didn’t get every ounce of the nonsense they want in the $3.5 trillion budget package. When asked by bemused reporters if she was actually serious, she replied “try us.” Here’s hoping the moderate wing has the guts to do just that.