It’s challenging to find silver linings in this pandemic.
Earlier this week, Gov. Phil Scott reminded us that federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, if spent wisely, could be an investment in the state that could leverage millions of dollars more over time. It is a billion-dollar opportunity that must not be squandered, he said.
The same thing could be said for the Build Back Better bill. And Vermont has a lot to gain from its passage.
The White House has been seeking to reset talks on its $1.75 trillion spending bill, aiming to salvage climate change measures but pare down or cut items like the child tax credit and paid family leave to appeal to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and other Democrats. That has been touch and go, to say the least.
President Joe Biden and his team seem to have pivoted from the long-shot attempt to pass voting rights legislation through the Senate in order to renew the talks in earnest on a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better bill.
There’s a problem.
Manchin, a moderate Democrat, abruptly halted talks on the spending package before Christmas, citing his concerns over inflation, deficit spending and what he called an attempt to “reshape our society.”
And that singular action has created a rift.
Biden, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another Democrat who has expressed reservations about the spending bill, met recently at the White House to talk about voting rights. Neither Manchin nor Sinema were swayed.
With all 50 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate opposed to the spending bill, the White House needed to win over Manchin and any other Democratic holdouts. If it succeeds, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris could cast a tie-breaking vote.
That seems like a best-case scenario.
This week certainly demonstrated how the Senate is divided. A failed vote Wednesday to scuttle the filibuster on voting rights was proof positive. Manchin and Sinema joined Republicans, and there was talk that Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock, Maggie Hassan, Mark Kelly, Catherine Cortez Masto and Michael Bennet were also considering joining the majority. But in the end, they did not, with rumored pressure from Biden.
For all intents and purposes, right now, one person — Manchin — controls the fate of the Build Back Better bill — legislation that, if passed, it would be a turning point in climate crisis, economic inequality, environmental injustice, and more.
There is no question, it would be another silver lining for Vermont. It could modernize our economy, lift up communities across Vermont, and finally turn the corner on the climate crisis here by putting into motion the solid plans already in place, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, advocates for that work say.
These investments can repair our state’s broken infrastructure, rebuild domestic manufacturing, and create thousands of good-paying jobs for Vermonters (something all parties at the State House agree we need). This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should not be wasted.
Polling continues to show support for the Biden’s infrastructure plan. In a recent survey, Data for Progress showed 85% of Vermonters supported additional federal investments for clean energy jobs, including the majority of independent and Republican voters. Support was equally as high for other specific issues covered under the plan, like removing lead water pipes and expanding clean energy tax credits. National polls continue to show strong support for addressing climate change and investing in clean energy infrastructure top priorities.
It has had support here. Last spring, 27 Vermont state and local elected officials signed a letter calling on Congress to support the plan and ensure our federal infrastructure plan invests in a clean energy future and environmental justice. They joined more than 1,200 leaders from all 50 states to seize the moment when it arrived.
Blessedly, our congressional delegation deserves credit for its leadership and having our backs on this one. We know the support for Build Back Better is there.
This is a must-pass bill. The climate crisis is the most existential threat to humanity. Action is long-overdue and the need is urgent. Failure to move this bill and ramp federal action now could set this nation back years — potentially a decade or more — all at the moment when we have a narrow window to act — to Build Back Better.
This is all hands on deck. Thank the members of the delegation. Or raise your voice to naysayers to make clear our obligation to get this right for all tomorrows.