Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the physical infrastructure bill proposed by President Joe Biden, the Democrats, and a small group of Republican Senators. The vote was 228 to 206. The vote in the Senate had been 69 to 30. The bill is expected to have been signed into law by the time of this printing and will be effective for five years.
Because it had the support of 19 Republican Senators, it is referred to as a bi-partisan bill. Because it does not deal with human or social needs, it is referred to as a physical infrastructure bill. The second bill – the Build Back Better bill – which will deal primarily with social infrastructure, will now be taken up by the Senate. It has already been passed by the House.
The so-called physical infrastructure bill is aimed at improving roads, bridges, and airport runways; public works systems, including clean water and wastewater treatment; public transportation and passenger and freight rail services; expanded access/accommodation for electric vehicles; the modernization/improvements of electric grids; and the expansion and improvements of broadband and internet access for rural and underserved areas.
Those infrastructure projects will obviously benefit Black constituents, along with others. Nevertheless, some Congresspersons – Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib – voted against it. Their belief was that by voting against the physical infrastructure bill, progressives might force at least ten Republican Senators to support the social infrastructure bill. There had apparently been an agreement that the two bills would be voted on together. With the passage of the one, there is now fear that the second bill will not be supported by the Republican Senators.
The physical infrastructure bill is being paid for by funds that are pulled from other unspent appropriations. Money for the second bill would require increasing taxes on large corporations and super wealthy individuals. Republicans, and even Democrats like Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, have balked at that idea, even though it is popular with voters in general.
If the social infrastructure bill does not pass, many things beneficial to Black and working-class individuals will not be realized. Among those things are: $400 billion for pre-school and child care, $150 million for home care, $200 million in tax credits for children, $555 million for clean energy and climate projects, $130 million in Affordable Care Act credits, $35 million in Medicare coverage, $150 million for housing, $40 million for higher education and workforce development, $100 million for immigration services, and $90 million for equity/investments. Already dropped from the original proposal are: provision for lower prescription drug costs, dental and vision coverage, free community college, and paid family medical leave.
Black, working-class, and progressive voters are correct to be adamant about the passage of the social infrastructure bill because it does embody real human needs. Furthermore, it is easily affordable with the rolling-back of the Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and the closing of the tax-loopholes.
Those items missing would be the heart of the Biden and Democratic agenda. They are the primary reasons why Black voters overwhelmingly voted Biden and Harris into office and why they turned the House and Senate Democratic.
With the passage of only the smaller of the two bills, it is clear to see that the glass is less than half full when it comes to those agenda items.
On the other hand, when one realizes that even if the second bill — the social infrastructure bill — passes, the predicament of Black voters will remain precarious. That is because, if a majority of the red states and the swing states are able to suppress the Black vote and thereby “permanently” establish themselves in office, they can easily roll-back whatever gains are made during the Biden administration, including the infrastructure projects.
As of this writing, the Biden administration is not fighting for the rights of Black voters as if the life of its administration and Black suffrage both depend upon it. Yet, it is clear that they do.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act both seem to stand little chance of passage without much more vocal support from Biden and other Democratic leaders and from people in the streets. The For the People Act seems to have already quietly bitten the dust. Allowing the critical matter of Black voting rights, represented by these bills, to again be destroyed will clearly show that the Black agenda in America is far more than half empty.