Might Congress Actually Do Something Right?

To take recent news reports seriously, it seems just possible that sometime this year the U.S. Congress might pass a pair of pieces of legislation that combine to do more good than harm.

Not only that, but this might happen because the better members of the House of (Mis-?)Representatives take a stand by refusing to vote for something unless they get what they say they want. Should that actually happen, the precedent might be at least as valuable as the particular legislation.

This idea depends on the infrastructure bill not being too horrible, and the reconciliation bill being sufficiently good, as well as on the House progressives doing what they say they’ll do. I have complete confidence in each of those things for about as far as I could throw Andrew Cuomo while he was trying to kiss me. But that’s a big cut above the norm.

The infrastructure bill is apparently focused on repairing crumbling roads and bridges so that they can somehow survive the climate collapse that they help fuel and which is increasingly expected to wipe out anyone who might drive on those roads and bridges. It also puts money into nuclear reactors and into straight-up fossil-fuel subsidies. On the other hand, the infrastructure bill includes funding for trains, for an electricity grid that can carry power from renewable sources, and for electric charging stations. While most of what started out in the bill has already been removed, what’s left is a very mixed bag.

The reconciliation bill, which it seems is actually a rough outline for a nightmarishly long and inscrutable concoction yet to be drafted by numerous well-bribed committees, might (or might not) end up including the right to pre-school for any families that want it, free community college for two years, grants for college tuition, guaranteed paid family and medical leave, a lowered age for a Medicare program expanded to include dental, vision, and hearing, lowered prices for prescription drugs, and various relatively weak measures toward climate protection, including the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps.

The reason I’m mildly excited about this is not so much the good things that are in the reconciliation bill that might stay in it and might not end up carefully worded into uselessness, but more so the notion that the Congressional Progressive Caucus might refuse to hand over its votes in exchange for a pat on the nose. Yeah, OK, so the real reason is that I’m probably an idiot. But what if they actually did?

Many of us have been asking members of Congress who claim to oppose increasing military spending to refuse to vote for it. The silence has been deafening. They did at least agree (thus far, and not counting Veterans Affairs or the “Homeland” Security Department) to not put any extra military spending into the infrastructure bill.

The other day, I started reading the reconciliation bill and was struck by the fact that it begins by announcing massive, increased military spending for each of the next 10 years. I was informed by people who understand these things, that this particular bill doesn’t actually determine military spending, so that part of it is just for looks and shouldn’t be worried about. I’m grateful for the skilled deciphering of Congress-speak. Yet I can’t help wondering why a bill that doesn’t have anything to do with militarism should be written with such a hideous beginning. And if you’re committed to needing even more military spending  in year 10 after nine years of unprecedented military spending, what is it that you claim the military spending is accomplishing? And how are you going to be able to sell the bill as affordable if it’s gratuitously committed you to not moving any funding out of the giant toxic five-sided suction hole that swallows $1.2 trillion annually?

I view this moment as not only a chance to establish the model of a small group of Congress Members taking a stand to block a bill until they’re given something valuable in return — something we demand of them, but also as a chance to make darn sure everyone knows there are mammoth mountains of money piled up in the United States. Moving money out of wars and war preparations, or taxing the hyper-rich and corporations could quickly put an end to the but-how-ya-gonna-pay-for-it BS. The immediate question is who will seize the opportunity to point that out, followed quickly by this question: who (if anyone) will actually refuse to cave in to corporate Congressional “leadership”?

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