At a time when working families continue to struggle, poll after poll shows that the vast majority of the American people support the provisions in President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act.
Some 88 percent believe we should lower the cost of prescription drugs, 84 percent believe we should expand Medicare to include dental care, hearing aids and eye glasses, 73 percent support establishing Paid Family and Medical Leave, and 67 percent want universal Pre-K. Further, 67 percent believe the federal government should raise taxes on high-income people and corporations to help pay for these desperately needed programs – which is what this legislation does.
So, given this overwhelming support, why is it taking so long for Congress to pass this bill? The answer is simple. Follow the money.
As part of our corrupt, big-money dominated political system, the pharmaceutical industry is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying, campaign contributions and television ads to defeat this legislation because it does not want Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. In order to increase their profits they want American taxpayers to continue paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for our medicine – sometimes ten times more than the people in other countries.
Last year alone, while nearly one out of four Americans could not afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors wrote, six of the largest pharmaceutical companies made nearly $50 billion in profits and the ten highest paid executives in the industry made more than $500 million in compensation. In order to preserve their corrupt and greedy pricing system, the drug companies hired nearly 1,500 lobbyists, including former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, to protect their interests. That is 3 lobbyists for every member of Congress. Unbelievable!
But let’s be clear. Opposition to this bill is not just limited to the pharmaceutical industry.
At a time when millions of senior citizens and people with disabilities cannot afford the home health care, dental care, hearing aids, and eyeglasses they desperately need, private health insurance companies are strongly opposed to this legislation. They are spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat this bill because they do not want Congress to expand Medicare to provide dental, hearing, and vision benefits and they apparently do not want seniors to receive the quality care they need in their own homes.
And it’s not just the health care industry and big drug companies. The fossil fuel industry is launching a major advertising campaign to defeat this legislation because it seems to be more concerned about protecting their short-term profits than addressing the existential threat of climate change.
At a time of record-breaking forest fires, drought, rising sea levels and extreme weather disturbances the fossil fuel industry has, since 2000, spent more than $2 billion on lobbying to protect its special interests and prevent the federal government from making cuts in carbon emissions to protect our planet.
Further, at a time of massive wealth and income inequality – when the two richest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent – the billionaire class is vigorously opposing this legislation because it wants to prevent Congress from making the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations finally start paying their fair share of taxes.
The corporate elite seem to love the idea that billionaires have a lower effective tax rate than nurses or teachers and that, in a given year, there are dozens of profitable corporations that don’t pay a nickel in federal income tax.
Let’s be clear. The $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act will not only expand Medicare, improve home health care for the elderly and disabled, lower prescription drug prices, combat climate change, and demand that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
It will cut child poverty in half by extending the $300 a month direct payments for working class parents that expire in December.
It will allow more than a million women to get back into the workforce by making sure that working families pay no more than 7 percent of their incomes on child care and make pre-school free for every 3 and 4 year old in America.
It will end the international embarrassment of the United States of America being the only major country on earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave as a human right. Under this legislation, we will no longer tell working moms that they must go back to work a week or two after giving birth in order to put food on the table and pay the rent.
It will address the labor shortage in America by making community colleges tuition free so that young people have the opportunity to acquire the skills they need for the good-paying jobs that are going unfilled today.
It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs by building the affordable housing we need so that millions of Americans are no longer paying over 50 percent of their limited incomes on housing and so 600,000 Americans are no longer sleeping out on the street or in homeless shelters.
It is no great surprise that not a single Republican in Congress supports this bill. After all, this is the party that four years ago provided $2 trillion in tax breaks to primarily benefit the wealthy and large corporations, and came within one vote of throwing up to 32 million Americans off their health care.
So, in a tied Senate which has 50 members each of the Democratic and Republican caucuses and a House of Representatives which has a mere three-vote-majority for Democrats, the question of whether we finally deliver consequential legislation to improve the lives of working class families comes down to Democratic unity.
Will all Democrats stand together to protect the interests of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Will all Democrats stand together to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry, and wealthy campaign contributors?
I certainly hope so.