“The White House isn’t making the demands to exclude universal child care or universal pre-K,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Face the Nation a few weeks ago. “This is coming from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, but those are the conversations that we need to have because the thing is is that Washington math is notoriously funny, and you can make a $1 trillion bill into $2 trillion, you can make a $3 trillion bill that helps fewer people,” she said. “That’s why we really need to talk about the substance of this.”
It’s definitely coming from the more conservative wing of the party. Rep. Suzan DelBene, the Washington state chair of the centrist New Democrats (sounding like a rehash of the old Blue Dog caucus) was full of compromise and cut-backs Tuesday morning. Also the usual defeatism we hear from that crowd. “[I]t is clear the size and scope of this package will shrink to reach an agreement with the Senate,” she told reporters. She added: “I have little confidence that a future Republican-controlled House or Senate would extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit or other Democratic priorities without significant erosion.”
Here’s what DelBene is ostensibly saying: We can’t do good things for people and then stand behind them. We can’t work for the future. We can’t fight because we might lose if we do. What she’s really saying is that centrists won’t fight. They won’t meet the moment to do the critical things—the popular things!—their constituents need. And they won’t say out loud what it is they want to cut. Not publicly, anyway.
So what’s going to be on the chopping block? Biden’s plans for small business that would give a massive boost to small, Black-owned businesses like Ashley Bradley’s food truck, Spoon-a-Bowl? “Operating a food truck allows us to service diverse neighborhoods all across the Las Vegas area and meet people in their communities,” Bradley writes. “Over the years, we’ve talked to many people who, like us, dream of starting their own business. But many simply don’t have the resources to do so.” Is that what centrists want to chop?
How about expanding Medicare so that elderly and disabled people can get the hearing, dental, and vision care—finally!—that will help them live full, healthy, and happy lives out there in society? How about family and medical leave that will help families take care of loved ones and each other, without worrying about jeopardizing their income? Or, how about that universal pre-K and monthly child tax credit payments that will help young families and bring millions of children out of poverty?
That’s going to be the drama of the next few weeks, even though it shouldn’t be. Even though $3.5 trillion is not a huge amount of money to spend to set the economy to rights. Even though everything in Biden’s agenda is very popular. Even though a Democratic party that delivered all of those things would have a better chance of keeping congressional majorities in 2022 if they passed—and ran on!—all of these things.