Infrastructure updates only get us halfway — we need Build Back Better bill, too

President Biden discusses the bipartisan infrastructure deal during an event at the Port of Baltimore’s Dundalk-Marine Terminal in Baltimore Md., on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
Greg Nash

President Biden just signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The new law is a good first step but not good enough to fundamentally reform and revitalize an economy that faces major threats.

His administration has already begun a massive public relations blitz to sell the benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. But this PR campaign is also a welcome opportunity to tout the benefits of the very popular social spending Build Back Better (BBB) bill, which languishes in Congress. 

Conservatives have criticized the big and bold BBB for going too far in government regulation of the economy. But the real problem is infrastructure deal doesn’t go far enough in the fight to alleviate the concerns working families have about their financial situation. 

Passing the basic package without the premium package is like building a bridge only halfway across the chasm that separates our immediate needs from our hopes for health, wealth and wellbeing in the future. The infrastructure deal is just maintenance — but BBB is transformative.

When implemented, the new infrastructure law will modernize our outdated and archaic electronic and transportation infrastructure. But the real jewel in the economic crown is the Build Back Better plan. The infrastructure act is a positive step, but it does not address serious obstacles to the future growth of the United States such as education, climate change and income inequality.

The version of BBB recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives provides for clean energy jobs, pre-school for millions of children and middle-class tax cuts, which are essential to an effective modern economy.

There’s a lot of evidence that public concern about the economy is causing Biden and his fellow Democrats a lot of grief. Passage of BBB would go a long way to reducing public financial anxiety and rebooting the president’s standing before the midterm elections.

A new national poll conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News and released Sunday shows most people are unhappy with the economy and the president’s performance. But a large majority of Americans support both of his proposals. The implementation of both initiatives should boost the economy and benefit Biden. 

The midterms are just a year away and the president’s current job rating could severely jeopardize the Democratic fight to maintain the party’s wafer-thin control of both houses of Congress.

But a full turn around the sun gives the president and his party the opportunity to fix the economy and repair his approval rating if Democrats are aggressively progressive.

The recent Democratic defeat in Virginia’s gubernatorial race highlighted the dangers facing the president’s party in next year’s midterm elections.

The exit polls from the recent gubernatorial campaign indicated that voter anxiety about the economy was the top problem for voters and that concern played a big role in the defeat of the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe.  

However, there’s not much evidence that the battle over critical race theory played as big a role in the outcome of last week’s elections in Virginia as the voter anxiety about the economy did. That hasn’t stopped the chattering class from hyping the controversy over racial education as an issue that could kill Democratic hopes to retain control of Congress after next year’s midterm elections.

The economy — not education — was responsible for the Democratic defeat there. One-third of the voters picked the economy as their biggest concern compared to one-quarter of the voters who prioritized education.

Not only that but the Virginians who were most concerned about the economy were more likely to support the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin than the voters who were most concerned about education. 

If Democrats don’t get distracted and do focus on the economy good things will happen for the party and the public. If Congress quickly passes and the president aggressively implements both the infrastructure plan and BBB, the party’s fortunes will improve next year.

The economy needs more stimulation, but it is already on the upswing from the time of the Trump administration. Since Biden took office, the national unemployment rate has declined from 6.3 percent to 4.6 percent and the economy has recovered more than half of the 10 million jobs that disappeared during Trump’s presidency. But there is much more to do.

The basic building block of America’s financial recovery and the rejuvenation of Democratic political fortunes is passage of the Build Back Better bill. Time is of the essence.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon

Tags bipartisan infrastructure bill Brad Bannon Build Back Better Construction Glenn Youngkin Infrastructure Joe Biden roads and bridges Terry McAuliffe

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