Much of the media coverage of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending bill has focused on storylines such as Biden vs. Republicans or Sinema vs. activists. The bill’s merits (or lack thereof) are rarely discussed. This is partly due to the bill’s gargantuan scope.© Provided by Washington Examiner
Instead of fostering debate and promoting quality legislation, this reconciliation bill has become a proxy for party affiliation. Republicans will vote against it to display party loyalty, and most Democrats will support it for the same reason. This process leaves us more polarized and further from compromise than before.
Take, for example, the bill’s climate provisions. Democrats would allow the government to lease space off the coast for offshore wind development. They would spend $150 billion on a Clean Electricity Performance Program which would pay utilities to switch to clean power sources. They would spend over $3 billion on creating a Civilian Climate Corps. They would build more charging stations for electric vehicles. And that’s just the start. Passing these proposals would reshape energy policies by expanding the role of the government and increasing regulations.
Similarly, the bill will likely include $450 billion of child care spending. Democrats would use this money to institute a universal preschool program while increasing subsidies for many families, among other reforms. Republicans don’t support these expansive increases in spending and instead often back programs like Sen. Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act — alternatives that address many of the same concerns without the same level of spending.
Neither climate change nor child care reform needs to be a partisan food fight, but the nature of the bill makes them flame points. Democrats become the party of expansive government, and Republicans are the party of restraint. Even though, that is, the policy realities aren’t nearly that simple.
If Congress debated these items individually, the odds of compromise would increase. Maybe a Republican like Sen. Rick Scott, who has acknowledged that climate change is a threat, would sign on to a climate reform bill. Perhaps a Democrat like Sen. Jacky Rosen, who has worked with Republicans on child care in the past, would help pass a child care compromise. Instead, we are left with 98 senators who have made up their minds and two who say they haven’t. The recent harassment of Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema illustrates the costs of bucking the party line.
The patchwork nature of the current reconciliation bill short-circuits debate and leaves members of Congress with a binary choice: to spend or not to spend. All nuance is lost, and the discussion quickly devolves into another Washington special of Red vs. Blue.
Instead of continuing with this unproductive charade, congressional leaders should break the bill into bite-size pieces and allow their members to debate those pieces as separate bills. This solution wouldn’t solve partisan gridlock overnight, but it would at least open the door for compromise.