by Jeff Booth (AFSCME Local 3650, personal capacity)
This article was originally published in Socialism Today, the paper of the Independent Socialist Group. Subscribe to the paper to receive each issue in print and read the articles before they’re published online!
The two corporate political parties are positioning themselves for the 2022 congressional elections. The Republicans, consolidated around Trump, replay the same reactionary ideas from his regime, including trying to keep alive claims of election fraud while at the same time pushing policies of voter suppression. After 40 years of initiating and supporting policies of austerity and cuts to social spending, the Democratic Party, for the moment, projects a strategy of large increases in federal spending, some on social benefits.
A December 14th, 2021 YouGov poll showed 50% of adults under 30 disapprove of how Biden is doing with many concerned about climate change, healthcare, student-loan debt, and abortion rights. Biden and the Democrats quietly dropped a slew of election promises including canceling $10,000 in student loan debt and offering two years of free community college.
Reality of Biden’s Bills
Despite huge claims from the Democratic Party and corporate media about the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, the devil is in the details. Funding will be slowly phased in over a decade and there’s no direct government jobs program in the bill. Instead, corporations will get huge contracts and subsidies and control how many workers to hire. Privatization is the model, not public works projects. The estimated job gains are far from certain and comparisons to New Deal jobs programs of the 1930s are deliberately misleading.
The bill was reduced from an original $2.6 trillion to only $550 billion (in new spending). For example, $39 billion is now slated for public transit but at least $176 billion is needed for immediate work, with an estimated $100 billion more needed within 10 years.
The proposed Build Back Better Act (BBBA) has also shrunk. Subsidies for childcare are fully funded for 2025-2027, but funding disappears in 2028. The childcare proposal would allocate $273 billion for subsidies but the Congressional Budget Office estimates $600 billion would be needed over 10 years. The bill’s pre-K proposal ends funding after only six years. Proposed negotiations with big pharma over drug prices wouldn’t begin until 2025 for a maximum of 10 drugs, and only a maximum of 20 by 2028. Changes to Medicare wouldn’t begin until 2024 despite premiums for doctor visits and outpatient care recently jumping 14.55%. There are improvements worth supporting but even if the bill passes, it will only be a band-aid on severe wounds in U.S. society.
The American Rescue Plan Act, the infrastructure bill, and the proposed BBBA don’t go far enough. Corporate and government bank accounts are overflowing. A bipartisan, massive $770 billion National “Defense” Authorization bill sailed through Congress with both corporate parties enthusiastically voting for it (363-70 in the House and 88-11 in the Senate). This $770 billion is the largest military-spending bill since WWII.
Biden and the Democratic Party rejected crucial reforms including a federal minimum wage increase, universal health care, Medicaid that includes dental and vision coverage, building new public housing, police reform, voting rights legislation, and other long overdue changes. This is the same role played by other Democratic presidencies including the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
Beyond the Democratic Party
Despite the recession in 2020, dangerous working conditions under COVID led many workers to walk out in protest and a record number of people quit jobs in 2021. There was an important increase in union organizing and strikes that’s likely to grow in 2022, but those struggles didn’t translate into a mass movement (see our article “2022: Bring the Fight Against Oppression Back Into the Streets” from issue #1). A wave of anti-racist, Black Lives Matter protests added mass political pressure leading up to the elections. However, many progressives and left groups tailed the Democratic Party, taking the protest movements off the streets, diverting energy and resources into supporting Democratic Party candidates. This reduced mass political pressure on both corporate parties.
Elections in 2022 and 2024 again raise the question of independent politics for millions of working people. The Democratic and Republican Parties are capitalist political parties. They use populist rhetoric and limited reforms to preserve their political duopoly. They’re tied to what’s acceptable to big business and billionaires. Democratic Party politicians never initiate mass, progressive protest movements out of the well-justified fear these movements would end up targeting the Democratic Party itself. Chronic, fundamental problems of poverty, racism, inequality, and the lack of a decent or future are cemented into the foundations of capitalism.
Unions, progressive and anti-racist organizations, and left groups need to break from Democratic Party control and unite around organizing a mass workers’ party, independent of corporate money and ideology. A workers’ party with a socialist program would immediately pull U.S. politics to the left, energize and strengthen unions, put enormous pressure on the corporate political parties and their system, and quickly win much more substantial reforms including a $20/hr federal minimum wage and free, universal healthcare.