There is still time for the Senate to approve the biggest investment plan for the welfare state in half a century.
The greatest stimulus for the welfare state in the United States in half a century runs the risk of being shelved along with other big projects that never took off, if the Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, carries out his threat of voting against it in the Senate at the start of January.
President Joe Biden’s proposal is not just another legislative measure. The Build Back Better plan is a huge investment of $2.2 trillion, which combines an energy transformation with social investment. Among other things, it opens the door to free education for children between 3 and 4 years old, subsidies for certain medications, expansion of the health system and the creation of millions of jobs. It aims to improve the living conditions of millions of Americans and at the same time kickstart an urgent transformation for the energy model of the most influential democracy in a world that is starting to leave it behind. Some dictatorships or illiberal systems threaten to take the lead or, more dangerously, to paint themselves as models of success in the face of ineffective democracies.
President Biden has decreased the original amount of $3.5 trillion to $2.2 trillion, subject to debate to avoid reluctance among the Democrats, but it is still a radical change. And that is how it was understood by the House of Representatives, which approved the plan on Nov. 19 with 220 votes in favor and 213 against. In the Senate it is a little more complicated, but not impossible to resolve. There is a 50-seat tie between the Democrats and Republicans that only the vote of the president of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris, can break in the face of an uncompromising Republican opposition — but for that it is essential that all the Democrats vote together.
And that is where Manchin comes in. He has announced he will vote against it within a few days, breaking his promise to the president. The West Virginia senator is especially opposed to the $550 billion allocated for renewable energies because that would be detrimental to the carbon and oil industry, an area where he has direct economic interests and has earned millions of dollars through companies managed by his son. It is no surprise that he is the member of Congress who receives the most donations from the fossil energy industry.
But it would not be fair to blame the possible failure of this significant plan on only one of 50 Democratic senators. In the Capitol there are another 50 Republican senators waiting for what they believe to be a possible political defeat for the president, when in reality they are helping the U.S. lose a perhaps irretrievable historic opportunity. Politics is the art of what is possible, and Biden still has time. There are voices who are asking to leave the “most Republican of the Democrats” senator with his negative vote and instead try to convince the “most democratic of the Republicans.” Whatever the strategy may be, the plan and its repercussions will go much farther than the U.S. borders and the pockets of some of its representatives.