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Perspective: What the ‘Build Back Better’ vote reveals about Democrats

The nearly $2 trillion bill opposed by Republicans talks about families, but favors wealthy elites

Nancy Pelosi celebrates the House passage of the ‘Build Back Better’ bill.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., celebrates the House passage of President Joe Biden’s expansive social and environment bill with other Democrats in the House Chamber, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

House Democrats passed a nearly $2 trillion spending bill early Friday without a single Republican vote. In doing so, they confirmed that an astounding transformation of the political parties is occurring, with Democrats increasingly favoring wealthy elites over working class families.

As Russell Berman wrote for The Atlantic, voters in 2022 and beyond may remember the “Build Back Better” package as a “windfall for the rich” because Democrats refused to read the room in restoring a tax break that largely benefits millionaires and billionaires, while implementing child-care policies that most middle-class parents don’t like.

The so-called “SALT cap” — which allows people to deduct up to $80,000 in state and local taxes from what they owe the federal government — does little to help ordinary Americans.

Instead, as Maine Rep. Jared Golden wrote, “The astonishing scale of this reverse-Robinhood provision could flip the overall impact of the Build Back Better Act into a tax cut for the top 1 percent.”

Golden, the only Democrat to vote against the bill, seems to understand what his fellow Democrats don’t: that this aspect of the bill has the ironic vibe of writing “Tax the Rich” on an expensive ball gown, as his fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously did.

Meanwhile, the assistance that the Democrats tout as transformational for families is not the assistance that most families say they want. The plan would pump $400 billion into child care, much of it commercial, even though research shows that parents believe their children are best cared for by arrangements that involve parents or other relatives. This forces families into care situations not of their choosing if they want the benefit.

Even more insulting to people of faith, the plan excludes child care centers run by churches and religious institutions in its budget-breaking largesse. Secular and commercial child care centers qualify for money to enlarge their capacity; those affiliated with religion do not, an exception that scholars Brad Wilcox and Patrick T. Brown have called unconscionable and potentially unconstitutional.

The shape-shifting nature of political parties is not a new development, nor is this the first time the parties have swapped positions. But the fastest way to lose elections these days is aligning your party with wealthy elites, and the GOP has gotten that message. “Build Back Better” shows that the Democrats have not.

In this image from House Television, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks on the House floor during debate on the Democrats’ expansive social and environment bill at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington.
House Television via Associated Press