After months of wrangling, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives finally passed the Build Back Better reconciliation bill in mid-November. While many Democratic leaders praised the nearly $2 trillion bill as a transformative piece of legislation on par with the New Deal or Great Society, it is actually quite modest – particularly in comparison to the roughly $6 trillion in COVID-related stimulus spending over the last two years. As one economist put it, “It’s so small. It’s like comparing a skyscraper to a hovel.” It is not likely to spike inflation, as Republicans and some Democratic conservatives have claimed. One if its largest provisions is a major tax cut for the affluent in high tax states, which underscores the growing importance of middle- and upper-middle class voters in the Democratic base. In many respects, it’s a far cry from the original $6 trillion spending proposal Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed earlier this year, which would have transformed the country’s social welfare system and make real commitments to fighting climate change. And as of this writing, its final passage in the Senate is not yet assured.
Despite this, it would be a mistake to write all of this off as business as usual. For months, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) thwarted various attempts by Democratic centrists to sink the deal. This reflects the positive changes in the CPC led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and others to turn it into a more cohesive and programmatic bloc. It reflects the growing influence the broad Left has been able to exercise since Bernie Sanders first ran for president in 2016. And, perhaps, it reflects an awareness that the popular nihilism running through American society needs to be combated by strengthening and supporting working people instead of making their lives more difficult.
There is still much work to be done. The Left is stronger now than it has been in a long time, but it is clear that we are not yet big enough nor powerful enough in enough places to win a truly transformative program. As the failure of the COP26 climate summit to make the breakthrough we needed made clear, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
This issue of Socialist Forum ranges widely, from the geopolitical conflict between the US and China to the state of America’s two major parties; from the realities of poverty in America to the need for a new, more democratic constitutional order; to proposals for mobilizing inactive DSA members to reflections by DSA founder Michael Harrington on the relationship between Marxism and democracy. As always, we invite readers to submit responses to any of these articles to our inbox: socialistforum [at] dsausa.org.