Although Montana’s Democratic Party appears to be dang near invisible, President Joe Biden and the Democrat majorities in Congress are definitely on the move. The good news is what they’re doing brings tremendous benefits to our people and planet, not to the mega-corporations Republicans in the White House and Congress have slavishly served for the last four years.
While the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill continues to be hammered out in bipartisan negotiations, Biden and congressional Democrats deserve significant credit for moving ahead with a massive $3.5 trillion measure they aim to pass using reconciliation, in which a budget measure can pass with a simple majority and is not subject to the obstructions of the Senate’s outmoded filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to advance bills.
That means this critical bill can become law with or without Republican votes. The measure will address very real, very serious and very important issues in our society while providing widespread benefits to our citizens. Republicans could pitch in, of course, were they not so busy trying to rewrite history on Trump’s Jan. 6 insurrection, bad-mouthing trans athletes and LGBTQ citizens, and wasting taxpayer money sending national guard troops to the border for political theater.
What the bill does is nothing less than crucial. For instance, it expands Medicare to provide the nation’s 64 million elderly citizens health care for dental, vision, and hearing — vitally crucial concerns that were not covered previously by Medicare. If anyone thinks it’s more important to have another aircraft carrier than to allow the senior citizens who built this nation to see, hear and eat, feel free to step right up and whine — and don’t forget to tell Grandma and Grandpa your priorities, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.
The measure also provides universal pre-kindergarten while extending the expanded child tax credit — an absolute boon to working parents as well as giving our next generations a head start on a good education. Likewise, for those who want to advance their education, the bill pays for two years of free community college. Add in the provisions for a paid family and medical leave program and the beneficiaries include virtually all Americans. And no, it doesn’t matter whom they voted for or what political party to which they do or do not belong.
As the world burns from global warming, the bill also finally gets serious about investing in clean energy, establishing a civilian climate corps and tackling the most pressing issue of our time — since without a livable climate, we are, literally, toast. Given this summer’s record-breaking heat waves, drought and wildfires “toast” has a very literal meaning for Montanans and all Western citizens.
Of course the Republicans, who apparently don’t believe in taking care of our citizens because it costs money, have rediscovered the words “fiscal responsibility” after blowing it off for the last four years — largely through massive tax breaks for corporations and the already wealthy.
So where will the revenue come from to fund the measure? As Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is now the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, put it: "The wealthy and large corporations are going to pay their fair share of taxes so that we can protect the working families of this country."
All the polls show Americans overwhelmingly support both the provisions and the funding for this measure — and why wouldn’t they? The simple truth is that if our government takes care of our citizens and the environment, the corporations will take care of themselves. Too bad that’s such an elusive concept for Republicans.
George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page.