Beltway News Coverage of Building Back Better Cheats the Nation


We’re making progress but it’s hard to discern because the reporters covering Washington are so often insular, so inside the beltway, they have no sense of the historic moment we are in.

There is seismic change all around, yet they are absorbed in the practiced rote of breathlessly tracking who is up and who is down, because the superficial power tick tock is what they fixate on. This makes much of our national political reporting disconnected from the rest of the country still in the throes of a pandemic that’s on its way to killing a million people in a country where the government’s failed response added to that death toll.

On Friday, several hours after the longest partial lunar eclipse in 580 years, for the first time in American history a woman became President of the United States, albeit briefly.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s 85-minute reign started once President Biden went under anesthesia to get a colonoscopy at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 11:35 a.m. The three hour and twenty-eight lunar eclipse lasted longer.

Change often happens in the margins and goes unnoticed.

Right around the time Harris had the launch codes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, presided over the passage in the House of President Biden’s $1.8 Trillion Build Back Better agenda, easily the most significant domestic legislation since the New Deal.

Of course, in hopes of getting the word out, she quickly convened a press conference and was understandably disappointed at just how shallow, even moronic some of the questions were from reporters. At least one of the handful of reporter asking questions appeared more interested in making his colleagues laugh than informing the American people who have been through an insurrection and a pandemic.

“You used to hold the longest record for the longest floor speech. How do you feel about that being broken?” asked the jokester reporter, referencing the five-hour tirade the night before from Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

“That’s not what we are here to talk about—this is about serious business,” snapped back a justifiably agitated Speaker who had just done her part toward delivering universal pre-K, a once in a generation reset on climate change and a realignment of the tax code that uplifts working families by ensuring that the top .01 percent pay their fair share in taxes.

Nobody asked what the legislation would do for the tens of millions of American families that struggle week to week while they perform the essential work that cost tens of thousands their lives.

The questions were either a regurgitation of Republican spin, or inside baseball tactical queries that had a skeptical spin that House Democrats’ efforts would be kneecapped by the Senate.

Speaker Pelosi turned to New Jersey’s own Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th CD), chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, to make the Democrats’ case and explain just how far along they were toward the finish line.

“The fact of the matter is that over the last few months, particularly in the last few weeks we have been working with the Senators Manchin and Sinema, but also with the chairs of the Committees in the Senate,” Pallone said. “We’ve been basically drilling down by getting Sinema’s input, getting Schumer’s input— so I do believe the drug pricing provision that you see is it…I guess there could be some changes, but I don’t think they are going to be significant.”

He continued. “The fact that we have negotiating pricing [in the bill] and we have savings, as the Congressional Budget Office showed, means this is a provision that saves money and at the same time does a lot in terms of affordability for seniors and others.”

“The same would be true with methane—Nancy and I and a group went to Glasgow for the Climate Conference and they were taking international action on methane, so we have this very important provisions with regards to methane emissions that was worked on with the Senators and worked on with House members over the last few weeks,” Pallone said. “This is pretty much it. We are pretty solid at this point and there’s no reason this bill could not come back from the Senate with [just] some minor changes.”

For months, as the landmark bill was being put together, the only story the media wanted to follow was about the internal drama within the Democratic Party surrounding Senators Manchin and Sinema. In the process, the thread of the story that included just what was contained in the legislation was lost.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the Education and Labor Committee, told reporters he had been working to achieve consensus with his Senate colleagues throughout the process. “We have pretty much agreed with our counterparts in the Senate on childcare which will allow parents to go to work,” Scott said. “If you are in a low or moderate [income] situation you can’t go to work [without it.] Pre-K, which is so valuable for education, is universal.”

In the car back from Washington, Rep. Bill Pascrell was clearly energized despite the marathon session. He conceded that in many ways the Build Back Better deal marked an improvement over FDR’s New Deal, which left out farmworkers and domestic workers of color, as part of a deal with Southern Dixiecrats to pass landmark labor protections for everybody else.

Build Back Better will transform jobs in childcare and congregate healthcare settings that have traditionally paid poverty level wages into living wages. It provides a pathway of citizenship for the millions of undocumented essential workers who put their health at risk to keep our economy running making it possible for millions to work from home.

“We know we addressed the inequities here be they are racial or economic—we’ve learned a lot about ourselves if we listen to what we’ve learned,” Pascrell said. “If we don’t, we are going to do the same thing over and over again.”

Pascrell believes that how the bill is paid for is every bit as important as what it’s paying for, because it shifts the tax burden to the country’s highest end earners who have seen an exponential growth in their wealth during the pandemic. He figures if the government wants workers to return to the workforce the country’s tax policy should make it worth their while.

“In the last 40 years” Pascrell said, the heavy tax lift was on Americans who had to “earn a wage to support their family” while shielding those who own assets. “A fair tax system does not soak the rich—I don’t believe in that,” he said. “But you certainly have to have the cojones and finally say ‘pay your way’ where they have not been paying anything it’s an insult to the system.”

But the twelve term Congressman says he has no illusions about the headwinds Democrats face headed into the 2022 mid-terms when traditionally the party that holds the White House loses seats in Congress.

“There’s no question in my mind we would lose the election if it was tomorrow morning for the House because of all the gerrymandering that’s going on right now,” Pascrell said. “But it’s not and we have a full year to put in place the very foundation Joe Biden is trying to build, and I am optimistic.”

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  • Kathleen Demarest

    It is true, reporters should truthfully, seriously, and honestly emphasize the positives
    of the Build Back Better plan. Personally, I don’t want to read or hear about
    the superficial. Voters and all Americans need and desire in-depth reporting.

    As for Rep. Pascrell, bless him! He is the ‘real deal’, authentic, truly interested
    in being of service. NOT another ego-seeking, power hungry politician.

    Thank you, Bob Hennelly, for an excellent column.

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