You deserved a break.
Checking the news was less of a habit and more of an involuntary bodily function for the past few years, peaking with the Capitol riots in the first week of 2021. Now, after the explosive growth of news consumption in 2020, prime-time ratings on all the major cable news channels are down by more than a third.
It’s understandable that many Americans seem to be cocooning, but it’s time to leave the cocoon. On Capitol Hill this month, the future of our country – and perhaps the planet – is being decided for us. Senate Democrats just passed a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, the beginning of a reconciliation process that will allow congressional Democrats to pass a package of domestic proposals with no Republican votes.
It is the most consequential piece of legislation in generations, rivaled only by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Yet the actual policies packed inside are receiving infinitely less attention than which politician is wearing a tan suit. Here’s a handy list:
1. We could fix some of the cruelest things we do as a society
While the richest have made out like intergalactic robber barons during the pandemic, the least among us have, as always, suffered the most. In the richest country that has ever existed, this is a choice.
And reconciliation could begin to reverse that choice in a couple of quick swoops – most notably by making permanent the child tax credit that’s projected to cut child poverty nearly in half, and by reforming and enhancing Supplemental Security Income, which traps 8 million elderly and disabled Americans in hellish poverty.
2. This is our last chance to take on climate change
Even climate scientists are “shocked” by the increased frequency of extreme weather driven by climate change. The stark new United Nations report called it “a code red for humanity.” Biden’s win means America is back in the Paris Agreement and at least not aggressively trying to make our planetary crisis worse, but that’s not nearly enough.
Inaction is not an option: Climate change is at ‘code red’ status for the planet
And neither are the whittled down payments in the bipartisan infrastructure compromise now headed to the House. The White House has called on Congress to go big with tax credits, new standards and billions for conservation. This would be a green energy investment dwarfing even the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which launched our solar and electric vehicle industries.
And still, this massive effort to make EV charging stations as ubiquitous as gas stations might not be enough.
3. It’s a historic opportunity to expand Medicare
Both the White House and Democrats in Congress are already on board to add essential benefits to America’s beloved health care plan for seniors – including dental, vision and hearing. But there’s more we could do.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scores of doctors and Joe Biden’s campaign platform all called for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60. This is not in the existing proposal, but – with a massive uproar – could make it into the final bill. If you want to get the eligibility age to zero, you’ve got to start somewhere. Like here.
4. The most popular part? How we pay for it
There’s so much more in this bill – including historic expansions of support for child care, home health care and education – and it’s remarkably popular, in some cases with support nearly doubling opposition.
But how will we pay for it!?? That’s the even more remarkable part. “Paying” for it with tax increases on the rich or corporations or both makes Biden’s economic plans even more popular. You could say that taxing the rich and their corporations and spaceships to improve the lives of Americans is the most popular thing Biden wants to do – and it has to be if it’s going to survive the onslaught of attacks from corporate lobbyists.
5. This could be our only chance to do any of these things
This is the bleak part. Democracy is cratering. GOP operatives spurred by Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the presidential election are actively preparing state legislatures to nullify election results they don’t like.
Even if that doesn’t succeed, Republicans can easily gerrymander themselves a House majority for the next decade that no one can out-organize around. And because the Senate is so broken by the filibuster, this bill could be our only chance to pass immigration reform along with voting and labor rights expansions that this GOP will never endorse.
More than infrastructure: Senate bill passed by both parties equals jobs, growth, competitive edge and better lives for millions
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell helped ensure the bipartisan success of Biden’s infrastructure bill on Tuesday – weakening the case for eliminating the filibuster that allows minority control of the Senate. Budget reconciliation, requiring only a simple majority, will likely be the Democrats’ best and possibly only chance to deliver the things they promised.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the Capitol on Aug. 9, 2021.
This is an eerily odd moment in politics. The pandemic has proved we have the capacity and willingness to help people without getting caught up on all the zeros it costs. And we’re about to see the culmination of a period of legislating that rivals the New Deal when it comes to direct support for struggling Americans. Yet who even knows it’s happening?
Well, now you do. Because so few people are paying attention, your voice can be even louder.
The House will be voting on the budget and reconciliation process later this month. Your calls to the Capitol switchboard matter more than ever. Let your representatives and senators know what you want them to do. Tell them to help Americans with disabilities, expand Medicare and actually fully fund the fight against climate change. Tell them to tax our avocational astronauts to pay for it. And keep calling until they do what you want.
Then you can go back to your much deserved break.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Medicare, education: Democratic Senate budget worth caring about
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