Earlier this month, Senate Democrats forged ahead alone, without an iota support from their Republican counterparts, to pass a $3.5 trillion budget resolution.
This resolution, of course, is the necessary precursor to Senate Democrats being able to go it alone in approving a historically massive and desperately necessary investment in the nation’s human and environmentally responsible infrastructure. While the details of the sweeping economic package Democrats have been contemplating have been far from worked out, much less agreed upon by the necessary number of congressional Democrats, what we have heard is that plans include expanding the social safety net, providing assistance for families to afford childcare, devoting substantial funding to address climate change, and more.
All of these elements congressional Republicans have vociferously opposed, as indicated by their stark absence from the bi-partisan infrastructure bill the Senate approved earlier this month.
Of course, Republican opposition is not the only obstacle standing in the way of President Joe Biden’s ambitious signature policy hopes being realized through congressional action. More moderate Democrats, most vocally Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have expressed opposition to the $3.5 million price tag that already represented a compromise for progressive Democrats.
These so-called “moderate” voices tend to echo the mantras of so-called “fiscally conservative” Republicans who continue to complain about what they view as excessive spending.
Manchin’s expression of concern, voiced the same day Senate Democrats approved the budget resolution, exemplifies this supposedly fiscally responsible or conservative position. Manchin at the time said in a statement:
“Given the current state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession — not an economy that is on the verge of overheating.”
While Manchin’s rhetoric of “irresponsibility” is typical, even stale, it is nonetheless entrenched and represents exactly the kind of language Democrats need to take on in a campaign to sway Americans’ hearts and minds in grasping the nation’s—and their own—economic and human interests.
Did Manchin miss the fact that millions of Americans are still experiencing dire need, facing housing and food insecurity, unlivable wages, lack of access to quality health care, and more?
Has Manchin completely ignored the fact, as so many supposedly fiscal conservatives complaining about excessive spending do, that a bigger threat to our economic prosperity and, indeed, survival is an overheating environment?
Take as just one example the fact that the Colorado River is drying up at an alarming rate, posing an enormous and ominous threat to a water supply that not only supports a large number of human lives but is vital to the nation’s economy and livelihood. In the past two decades, the flow of river has shrunk by 20% compared to its 20th-century average, a situation caused largely by the human-made climate crisis.
According to CNN:
Today, this river system supplies 40 million people in seven western states and Mexico, and irrigates more than 5 million acres of farmland on its way into Mexico and the Gulf of California.
Las Vegas relies on the river for 90% of its water supply, Tucson for 82% and San Diego for around 66%. Large portions of the water used in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver also come from the river, and experts say these booming metropolises would not have been possible without its supply.
But a crisis is unfolding, and farmers, scientists, water managers and policy makers across the Southwest are increasingly alarmed.
So let’s ask ourselves a basic question about fiscal responsibility and climate change:
What is more fiscally irresponsible? To not spend money to invest in addressing climate change and building an infrastructure that is greener and anticipates the damage climate change will wreak upon the nation, or to find funds to mitigate damage and build a world for the future that is habitable and more protective of the ecological basis of our lives?:
We often hear Republicans and Democrats like Manchin, those who call themselves “fiscal conservatives,” complain about excessive spending, often arguing that we should approach the federal budget the way families approach their household budgets.
They seem to imply that families balance their budgets regardless of the needs of their needs for food, health care, education, a healthy environment in the home, and so forth.
We need to point out once and for all how ridiculous this is.
Many parents pull out the credit card or go into debt to pay for their children’s medical care and education—and certainly to feed their children. They don’t sit around—if they can access monies, even if it means accruing debt—debating whether they should fill that child’s cavity, have cancer treated, heat their homes, or feed their families.
For most of us in our family lives, being fiscally responsible means above all taking care of our family’s needs as best we can and by whatever means necessary.
And we know that not taking care of our family’s health needs will cost more later, just as we know that not addressing our crumbling infrastructure and the impact of climate change will cost us exponentially more going forward.
We know, for example, that evicting families and, more to the point, not addressing housing needs, in the middle of a pandemic, will only exacerbate the public health crisis and cost us more in the long run.
Thus, one of chief challenges for Democrats that, if met, could bear much fruit in the arena of persuasion, is to re-define “fiscal responsibility” and “conservatism.”
Republican ideology isn’t “conserving” anything. It’s ushering in the destruction of the our world, the very basis of our lives, our survival, depend on.
What Republicans call “socialism” isn’t giving away free stuff; it’s smart short and long-term investing.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.