There’s nothing the political press loves more than declaring “winners” and “losers.” There are winners and losers of debates. Of elections. And yes, of legislative fights. (In full disclosure, HuffPost has done its fair share of these stories too.)
Sometimes, the results are comically out of touch and treat politics as nothing more than a game, rather than a set of decisions with consequences that will influence the well-being of millions of people. McSweeney’s parodied this well in 2017 with “Winners and Losers of the Recent Nuclear Holocaust.”
This week, like so many other weeks, Democrats are trying to come up with a framework for President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. The party has a chance to pass ambitious legislation that would dramatically improve the social infrastructure in this country through support for child care, elder care, parenting and a cleaner environment.
But Democrats are not going to go with a bill that costs $3.5 trillion over 10 years, as Biden proposed. They’re likely going to settle on something less than $2 trillion, to satisfy two conservative Democratic senators: Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona.
The number is rather arbitrary, and the result is that many major programs will get cut. And real people will be left out.
This week, the White House laid out a potential framework that it hopes could satisfy Manchin and Sinema, while still preserving some of Biden’s agenda. Here are the real winners and losers of what’s going on:
Cutting Climate Change Measures
Winner: Fossil fuel lobbyists and Joe Manchin
Loser: Human civilization
Manchin receives big money from the fossil fuel industry. In the current election cycle, he’s the top recipient of money from the oil and gas industry, coal sector and natural gas pipeline operators, according to an analysis by The Guardian.
But even more directly, Manchin is a representative for the coal industry. In 1988, he founded a coal brokerage firm. Although he handed it over to his son in 2000, he still holds stock valued between $1 million and $5 million and made roughly $500,000 in dividends last year.
Thanks to Manchin, Democrats appear to be cutting a major proposal to address climate change, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, from the Build Back Better framework. The $150 billion clean-electricity program aimed to cut utility sector emissions 80% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The federal government would pay power companies to increase their output of zero-carbon electricity 4% each year and impose fines on those that didn’t.
Democrats may be throwing away their last chance to enact meaningful climate change legislation to help save the planet, since Republicans are expected to make gains in 2022 and perhaps take back one, or both, chambers of Congress.
Smaller Child Tax Credit
Winner: Joe Manchin
Loser: Parents and children
When Democrats expanded the child tax credit in March, it quickly became one of the party’s greatest accomplishments. It gives families up to $300 a month per child, as long as they live in households earning less than $150,000 annually. And they don’t have to do anything to get the money; it’s sent out as checks or deposited directly into their bank accounts.
Economic analysts say stimulus measures, like the child tax credit, have likely softened the blow of the pandemic and helped lower the poverty rate.
Democrats had hoped to extend the child tax credit in the Build Back Better legislation through 2025, which is the same time that the household tax cuts from the 2017 GOP tax bill are set to expire. That way, Democrats would have some leverage with Republicans to extend both provisions.
But the White House is now floating extending the child tax credit for just one year, freeing up about $300 billion for other policies that Democrats are trying to fit into the slimmed-down legislation.
Manchin has also pushed for a cutoff lower than $150,000, as well as a “work requirement” that could deny benefits to families with the lowest incomes.
Less Generous Paid Leave
Winner: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema
Loser: Everyone who doesn’t have a job that provides leave and might need time off to deal with life’s roadblocks
Just 23% of private sector workers have access to paid family leave provided by their employer and 42% have access to medical leave.
Biden’s initial proposal would have given all workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave. They could use it to take care of a new baby or seriously ill family members. Deal with a loved one’s military deployment. Seek safety from domestic violence. Heal from their own serious illnesses or from the death of a loved one. Workers would have received at least two-thirds of their earnings during their leave time.
The White House is currently proposing four weeks ― which is better than nothing, but still falls far short of what Biden originally wanted.
The United States is out of step with other wealthy nations, the only one that doesn’t provide guaranteed family and medical leave. Policy experts say that such policies help boost women’s participation in the labor force and particularly benefit low-wage workers and workers of color.
No Free Community College
Winner: Four-year colleges. And Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Loser: Students who want to further their education but aren’t rich
Allowing students to attend community college for free has been a proposal that’s been closely associated with Biden and first lady Jill Biden, who has taught at community colleges for 30 years. It would give everyone access to higher education, regardless of ability to pay.
But lobbyists for four-year colleges opposed the proposal because they were worried it would hurt their bottom line. They argued that states would redirect money away from them, or students would opt to attend community college instead of a four-year institution.
With Manchin and Sinema refusing to support any legislation that they deem to be too expensive, free community college is likely to get the boot.
Cutting Home Care Funding
Winner: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema
Loser: Everyone who is elderly, knows someone who is elderly or plans to be elderly someday
The White House is looking at cutting down its $400 billion proposal for home- and community-based care to $150 billion. The plan is meant to allow more elderly and disabled people to live in their homes, while allowing their loved ones to continue working. It also aims to provide better wages and benefits to the caregiving workforce, which is disproportionately women. An academic study estimated that the $400 billion proposal would create 1 million new jobs, both through directly and indirectly as workers spend their new wages.