The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal would have allocated $3.5 trillion toward public infrastructure, jobs, internet access for all Americans and combating climate change via investment in clean, public transport. The bill included spending to guarantee clean drinking water as well.
This bill should have been passed. Democrats have a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, meaning that they can, in theory, bring about serious change for the majority of Americans. Combined with having Joe Biden as president, the Democratic party should be able to do almost anything it wants. But the bill was not passed. It was voted against by two Democratic Senators: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Manchin and Sinema have proposed $1.5 trillion in spending as a compromise, less than half of the original number. Progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders have expressed concerns that this would not be enough to accomplish the intended goals. I feel the same way. As of August 2021, unemployment in America was 5.2 percent. Climate change and ecological collapse will proceed at a similar rate, whether or not it is practical for us to address them appropriately.
Manchin has complained that the bill would lead to what he called “entitlement mentality.” A common talking point among conservatives, which can be traced back to Reagan’s anti-welfare rhetoric, is a concern for overdependence on the government, or feelings of “entitlement” among citizens instead of a willingness to work hard. It is concerning to hear this rhetoric coming from a Democrat. Furthermore, I feel that Americans are entitled to certain things. We are entitled to clean water and working roads, and we are entitled as well to a planet that is habitable.
This is happening as the Democratic Party finds itself divided between progressives, like Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar, and more moderate liberals like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and, of course, Manchin and Sinema. The Democratic Party has historically been dominated by more moderate politicians, with progressivism and socialism having entered the mainstream more recently. Even so, it is important to note that Manchin and Sinema find themselves alone against a bill that is already seen as a compromise between the two factions that is supported by liberals like Pelosi and progressives like Sanders alike.
Moreover, I do not see how Democrats benefit from holding a majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives if they do not take advantage of it.
Manchin and Sinema both ran on the Democratic ticket in their respective states. And while the Democratic Party is by no means homogeneously progressive, it is safe to say there is some consistency with what Democratic voters want. Interestingly, the majority of not only Democrats but of all voters, both Democrats and Republicans, want the bill to go through.
As representatives of their constituents, Manchin and Sinema have a responsibility to carry out their demands. This is the principle behind representative democracy. As Democrats, they have a responsibility to make decisions that are in line with the party’s values. Obviously, not every member of the party can be realistically expected to take the same positions as the progressive faction on every issue, but in order for the Democratic Party to succeed politically, they need to have some sort of coherence in terms of what they support. To succeed as a political party, they need to act more like a political party.
Over the last four years, the Republican Party has supported brutally violent militarism and the separation of children from their parents. They have proven that they do not care about the impending climate catastrophe or about the deaths brought about by police violence. They have also shown a willingness to commit to politics aggressively. To maintain power, they have capitalized on a charismatic figure, gerrymandered districts and even denied the results of a presidential election.
In order to counter this Republican advantage, Democrats need to take advantage of every opportunity they get. This means setting requirements for which politicians are allowed to run on the Democratic ticket. Democrats should be both dedicated to the core values of the party and willing to support the party agenda with major bills such as this one. This bill was an opportunity for change that they have now lost.
The Democrats can improve many people’s lives and sway more voters to their side. In the face of climate change and the pandemic, it is of urgency that they do so. The possibility also exists, however, that if they do not succeed, Democratic voters will lose faith that this is the party of change. People will become disenchanted and begin to drift away.
Desmond Keuper is a sophomore majoring in philosophy.