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Americans Need Bread/Let Them Eat Crumbs

The Shell of Progress

Low and behold, Democratic Senatorss have managed to pass the inflation reduction act, or IRA, to much fanfare and celebration. Chuck Schumer gave a speech in which he clearly placed the spending bill as one of the legislative feathers in his proverbial cap. Successfully snookering the Republicans by actually playing politics is a quite stunning, and welcome change for Democratic lawmakers. Normally, we are stuck with only one side attempting to use the levers of power to pass legislation while the other looks on with helplessly raised hands, saying “there was nothing we could do!” Over the past few weeks, however, the Democrats have finally found some spark of life. It appears that someone in the party recognizes that actually passing legislation is not just a positive thing, but critical to their re-election chances. Starting with the maniacal overturning of Roe v Wade by Republicans, there looks to have been a tidal shift in the election momentum towards Democrats, aided by multiple unforced errors by the ravenous Republicans. It's a (small) example, but each time our government passes material legislation, people begin to believe that politics can deliver, at least in some minor way, for the American people. Before we get too excited with the “IRA”, however, we should take the jubilation of the mainstream media with a grain of salt. Coverage will frequently claim that this is the biggest piece of climate legislation in American history, a momentous piece of once-in-a-generation legislation, and while the first claim is technically true, it is damning with incredibly faint praise. The United States has long been an embarrassment when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, and this bill simply takes us to, inadequate. Taking a clear-eyed look at the legislation lets one realize that this is the gutted shell of the original promises and dreams of Joe Biden's Democratic Party. We’ve lost Universal pre-K, Child care, $ Elder care, $ Child tax credit, $ Housing, $ Community college, EITC expansion, Closing Medicaid gap, Immigration Tax RATE hikes, Millionaire surtax, and Ending carried interest, all of which are extremely popular, and effective programs. Prior to the 2020 election, and even as late as last fall, discussions of the $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” package with all of these provisions were being floated, and even Joe Manchin claimed he would agree to $1.5 trillion in spending. Now, as the bill moves to the house, it appears that only around $400 billion will be allocated to the climate crisis. Some progress is better than no progress, something that we've been dealing with for a long, long time, but when Democrats remove the majority of their legislative goals, when only negotiating with themselves, it's difficult to call this any sort of grand victory. Still, according to some analyses, the provisions in this bill are expected to reduce emissions by as much as 40% from 2005 emission levels by 2030. Lowering emissions is absolutely essential, but this bill, as Bernie Sanders notes, falls far short of what is required from us by the timeline imposed by the climate crisis. A brief look at the weather this summer, demonstrates the urgency of action, with a series of 1,000-year natural disasters wreaking havoc on not just our country, but the world. As an exponential process, climate change will only accelerate the frequency and severity of these catastrophic events. Another major shortcoming of the IRA is that it follows the same playbook of avoiding direct investment and spending by the government, instead using tax rebates and credits to incentive corporate and individual behavior, ultimately making the policy simply a continuation of the same public-private partnership logic that has driven the United States policy framework for decades. What's more, we are doubling down on the type of sub-optimal infrastructure, like electric cars and direct carbon air capture, rather than large investment in public transit, and effective land and agricultural management. It appears that once again the primary driver of this legislation was determined by what was acceptable for the fossil fuel industry and their avatar “baby-killer” Joe Manchin as they hold the entire world hostage for their own greed. A prime example of such activity can be seen with the coupling of renewable energy spending to more fossil fuel leasing. As with the climate provisions, the IRA’s other legislation is equally anemic: From healthcare, to tax reform this bill does the bare minimum. That’s more than can be said, however, for its effect on inflation, which most experts expect to be negligible. As usual, we have been stuck with crumbs in all areas. Still crumbs are better than the absolutely empty plate the American people had been served for nearly two years. Whether or not this last, spasmodic legislative effort works to save the Democrats come elections this fall, the real test of whether the IRA will be a success or failure is whether or not this recent activity is viewed as proof-positive that the government can, and should take action, acting as an effective avenue through which people pursue positive material change. In other words, if this legislation is treated as a base camp from which to strike for more aggressive policy than this may indeed be the start of something amazing. But, if this is the only piece of climate or healthcare legislation that is passed this decade, then once again, the meager offering by the Democrats will be far too little far too late, to all our detriment. We must make policy that is not constrained by special interests, who determine the parameters under which our public policy is written. With our politicians beholden to their donors we're going to need more than just voting this fall, we're going to need active organizing of labor power and economic power, joining together to make sure that it is the American people who get the final say on our policy choices. This legislation is a foot in the door, let use the momentum and excitement Americans feel to build an economic cudgel which can pry the door wide open. #DSOT #UPM

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