WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s top budget official defended the slimmed-down deal on infrastructure this week, explaining that the weeks of bristling negotiations is how the “sausage-making” happens.
“This is, in my estimation, my experience, just what the legislative process is,” acting Budget Director Shalanda Young told HuffPost of the diminished climate proposals in the package. “And frankly, a lot of Americans said they want to see the sausage-making up close and personal. This is it. This is how it happens.”
The deal is far smaller than what Democratic lawmakers were pulling for and removes several key proposals like paid family leave and sick leave programs and lower pharmaceutical drug prices. Democrats dropped the paid leave program after failing to convince Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support it, meaning the United States remains one of the only industrialized countries in the world with a paid leave mandate. And leaving prescription drug reform out of the package could end up a cudgel for former President Donald Trump, who attempted to take executive action on the price of drugs during his tenure.
But the bill includes $550 billion in clean energy and climate funding in what Biden called “the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis ever ... beyond any other advanced nation in the world.”
However, experts believe the package is still not enough to bring U.S. emissions to zero and prevent millions of deaths as the planet warms. A United Nations report from August found that it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” and that things will only get worse. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings a “code red for humanity.”
It’s still unclear how much of the funding will go toward the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative, announced in January. The initiative seeks to deliver at least 40% of federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. A 2017 report found that Black Americans are 75% more likely to live near pollution sources than other Americans.
In an interview this week, Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, urged patience as progressives voiced concern over the pared-down agenda.
“In some ways, I watch and just recognize that people don’t fully understand how the process works. We are moving extraordinarily quickly on lots of things,” she explained. “It’s just that the things we are trying to do are huge, and the ability to be able to kind of move the entire federal government in a way that we’re able to deliver on Justice40 is a big ask and it takes multiple steps.”
“I just ask people to give us a little bit of time to make it all come together,” she added.