What the “Build Back Better” bill is actually about
The real goal is the transformation of American society
Americans now hear the noise of battle in Washington and the conflict is described as a debate over taxation and spending. Money is certainly on the line in the debate—trillions of dollars, in fact—but the Biden Administration and Democratic leaders in Congress are not really interested in money right now. The real goal is nothing less than a transformation of American society.
President Biden ran as a moderate Democrat, even as his party was lurching leftward. All the new energy in the Democratic Party is among the most liberal, who style themselves as “progressives.” Their preferred candidates for 2020 were Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But the party’s establishment leadership panicked at the thought of Sanders or Warren at the top of the ticket, and the leadership orchestrated the departures of other contenders from the race, just before the crucial South Carolina primary. Biden was able to face Sanders directly, and the nomination was effectively his.
The Democratic Party’s 2020 dilemma was that it could not win without the activists pushing hard left, but it also could not win with them at the top of the ticket. Unless, of course, Biden could be packaged as a moderate and would govern as a leftist. That is exactly what is happening. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported the reality with these words in a major headline: “Biden throws in with Left.” Reporting on the debate among Democrats last week, a team of reporters explained that Biden had to choose sides between the moderate and progressive forces in his party. What did he do? “He effectively chose the left.” That’s the verdict of The New York Times, which really tells you something.
The media debate concentrates on the conflict between Democratic “moderates” who support a bi-partisan infrastructure bill totaling more than $1 trillion, versus the progressives who are pushing for social spending that will cost more than $3.5 trillion. But even those numbers conceal bigger bills. Bernie Sanders says $6 trillion is needed and we know that accounting tricks were necessary to get down to the $3.5 trillion proposal.
Make no mistake: The money is important. We are not paying our current obligations for entitlement programs and social spending. Every dollar the government spends in this way is a tax on future generations of Americans. We are robbing our own children. Christians understand the morality of debt, and Americans used to care about deficits and irresponsible borrowing by the government.
But President Biden now wants to be a transformational president, ranking with presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. He wants to spend more than Barack Obama ever dreamed, and his reputation for moderation in the past is now a liability in a party pushing left, constantly and energetically. Roosevelt and Johnson were epic spenders, but Biden is determined to out-spend them both.
And yet, the politics is far less important than the cultural ambitions behind the proposals. The $3.5 trillion package offers child credits, even for the middle class, government child care and a vast expansion of federal spending for medical treatments. Community college tuition would be free and a host of policies tied to the Green New Deal and liberal activism would be enacted. The proposal’s details reveal a pay-off to just about every liberal interest group and movement.
The real threat of the proposal is moral. The goal of propelling more and more Americans into financial and personal success, of lifting families permanently out of poverty through work, is sacrificed for the goal of expanding the entitlement society. The legislation would push the United States into a more European model, with an ever-expanding welfare state taking up more and more of the society.
Furthermore, the entitlements are designed to bring millions of the middle class into the expectation of a government check and expanding government control. If the government writes the check, government control follows. That same middle class will end up eventually paying the tax bills, but by then more citizens will be hooked on those government checks. The architects of this legislation are counting on it.
The real ambition is to reshape and transform American society. The leftward push for this bill is tantamount to a rejection of the basic structure of our national culture and its economy.
It will also undermine work. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, perhaps the most important moderating influence in the Democratic Party, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that the purpose of the $3.5 trillion package is to “change our entire society to an entitlement mentality.” He nailed it.
Christians are commanded by Christ to love God and to love our neighbors. Love of neighbor means working for a society in which human beings are liberated and encouraged to work, to strive, to marry, to participate fully as citizens, and to raise families in security and love. We have much work to do as we seek to build that society, but the “Build Back Better” bill is designed to make government increasingly the center of our society. The money at stake is important, but the morality at stake is far more important.
The debate this week in Washington is even more urgent than you thought.
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