Biden agenda squeezed as corporate Democrats strip down Build Back Better
Corporate Democrat Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are putting the squeeze on President Joe Biden's Build Back Better Act. By withholding their votes, the two renegade senators have managed to strip out tax hikes on big business, climate change, free community college, and more from the massive social policy bill now being debated. | AP photos

BALTIMORE—Once again, Democrats are negotiating with themselves as President Joe Biden, realizing that so-called “moderate” Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona remain obstinate in opposition to key elements of his agenda, is giving ground. But he also vows to keep trying to attain those goals.

In an hour-and-a-half town hall in Baltimore on Oct. 20, the president admitted Sinema refuses to raise taxes on corporations, so those provisions of his Build Back Better plan, reversing that Trump-GOP corporate giveaway, will be thrown over the side.

The Baltimore town hall, after addresses in Scranton, Pa., and New Jersey, are part of the president’s new effort to convince voters to pressure their senators to pass Build Back Better, now hung up on Capitol Hill.

The key roadblocks are Manchin and Sinema, whose votes the president needs in the evenly split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie. The other 46 Democrats and both independents back Biden’s 10-year plan to expand the social safety net.

So, strongly, do unions and progressive organizations, who have launched petitions, including one from the AFL-CIO, and ad campaigns for it.

Biden’s admission he has to compromise with Sinema on taxes is a direct gift to a senator who just held high-dollar fundraisers in Phoenix, Ariz., and Paris, France, though Biden didn’t say so. Instead, he said that right now he must give some ground, then resume pushing for more.

“I’m prepared to do the things that can get done now that can begin to change the lives of ordinary Americans to give them a fighting chance and come back and try to get others later,” the president said.

Biden also must compromise with Manchin, the Senate Energy Committee Chairman who draws millions in campaign contributions from coal and natural gas interests, won’t yield on energy issues, particularly those that could cut use of coal for electricity generation. Coal plants are key carbon emitters, blamed for increasing global warming.

And both oppose Biden’s plan to expand Medicare coverage to hearing, dental, and vision aid, the president admitted. He said direct dental coverage could be replaced with $800 vouchers and the hearing aid cost problem is solving itself as hearing aids are now being sold over the counter “at Walgreens” and not for thousands of dollars, either. Of vision coverage, he said, “we’re working on it.”

As for the other elements, though, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to get to vote,” on either raising corporate taxes or all of the clean energy plans, Biden admitted.

“Look,” he laughed “when you’re in the United States Senate and you’re President of the United States and you have 50 Democrats, every one is a president,” he said, drawing audience laughter.  “Every single one.  So, you got to work things out.”

And in an effort to cut costs, which Manchin demands, too, paid family and parental leave would be for four weeks, not 12, Biden conceded. But pay and training for caregivers, most of them women of color, stays in the Build Back Better plan, he declared.

“We’re one of the few industrial countries in the world that doesn’t have paid leave so that when you stay home to help that person, to take care of that person, you’re still getting your pay. And it does not hurt the business at all. The business isn’t paying for it. The federal government is paying for it. It’s a little bit like, as I said, a tax cut for people who are not able to otherwise take care of their families,” Biden said.

But not everything was compromised away, although some favorite causes were left on the cutting room floor. Forced to choose between funding pre-K education for all kids or two free years of community college tuition, Biden chose the kids—a choice experts in the field say is more beneficial in the long run because kids learn so much more in those years. He agreed.

“I’m looking out here, and a lot of you are part of that sandwich generation: You have young kids, and you have aging parents. And one of the things all the polling data shows is people are more concerned about taking care of the elderly because they don’t know what to do than they are even (for) their children.”

“So what we do is we provide the funding for Medicaid to allow you to be able to keep—if your parents had their home—keeping them in their home if you wanted, or get help in your home with homecare from professionals helping you take care of them,” he told questioner Vanessa Antrim of Bowie, Md.

“They’re staying in their home, you’re going to be able to have the ability to have someone come in and make their meals for them.  They don’t have to be there 24/7.

“In addition to the process, we’re going to be able to train up those homecare workers who are usually minority women, women of color, as well as immigrants. And they have the capacity to learn more as they go along, to move to the point where they can become practical nurses and things like that. So, it makes a lot of sense, and it’s cheaper–cheaper than it is to not do it. “

And while Biden admitted he was forced to give in to Sinema’s opposition to higher corporate taxes, he flipped the discussion to point out that the U.S. led the way to a recent international agreement on minimum worldwide corporate tax rates of 15%. Economic analyses show droves of multinational corporations—along with the rich—transfer their headquarters or their assets to overseas “tax havens” where they get away with paying little or nothing while avoiding U.S. taxes as well.

“The corporate tax rate was some 37%,” he explained. Former President Barack Obama and Biden, as his VP, “thought it should come down to 28%. “In the process, it came down to 21% percent under Trump, which even the corporate leaders… know they should be paying a little more than 21%.” A 21% rate, he said, means “if you’re a schoolteacher and a firefighter, you’re paying at a higher tax rate than they are, as a percentage of your taxes.

“But here’s the deal: I believe that…we can pay for this whole thing.  But, for example, if you in fact made sure that you paid a minimum 15%—minimum 15%” instead of “if you’re paying nothing” as 55 top Fortune 500 firms do now, “that’s over almost $400 billion over 10 years.”

“Here’s what I’m willing to do: I’m willing to make sure that we pay for everything without anyone making less than $400,000 paying a single cent more in taxes. That’s my objective.”

Instead of free community college—which he said both senators also oppose—Biden said his plan also has higher sums for Pell Grants and more money for apprenticeship training, a stand that particularly pleases the building trades. But he’ll keep pushing for the free college tuition, he vowed.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.