Knowledge of Build Back Better is Power

Hans Nichols at Axios recently reported that Senator Joe Manchin (D – WV) is willing to discuss the climate mitigation and child tax credit provisions in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. On December 19, Manchin, a conservative Democrat and critic of Biden’s agenda, stated in a Fox News interview that he would not support the bill. This week, the senator confirmed that he might return to the bargaining table.

A day after news broke that Manchin’s “no” was not necessarily final and defending the senator’s earlier blanket refusal, Fox News Contributor Deroy Murdock fired off a barrage of invective. He wrote that “BBB [Build Back Better] is … a Pandora’s box teeming with far-Left vipers and viruses.” These include “[u]niversal pre-kindergarten, all the better to brainwash children with critical race theory …,” and a smorgasbord of “socialist goodies,” such as “body spa treatments” and “a Great Lakes heavy icebreaker.”

Hardworking preschool teachers make sure that the toddlers in their charge learn all sorts of skills. Crafts, story time, potty training, and naps are also big parts of the day, so there is no room for critical race theory, a subject mostly taught in universities. In addition, I do not recall my political science professor ever teaching us that massages and icebreakers are critical elements in forming repressive, authoritarian regimes, even those with a socialist veneer. If he had, we might have wondered if he was qualified for the job or was simply joking.

It is likely Murdock and his colleagues know that this rhetoric is a collection of obfuscating nonsense, but creating confusion is exactly the point: many Americans do not know what is really in the Build Back Better bill. According to a CBS News poll, “Only 10% [know] a lot of specific things about what’s in the Build Back Better plan, and a majority admit to either not knowing specifics or anything at all.” They may have heard about the various price tags and the so-called controversies swirling around the legislation but not much else.

In fact, majorities, including those of registered Republicans, have been supporting some of its individual provisions for a long time. Many who are affiliated with the GOP oppose the current legislative package, yet they support its specific measures. In other words, they support it, but they don’t support it. This is an impressive feat by the country’s ideological supervisors in engineering a major disconnect. It is a sleight of hand that ultimately translates to constituents applying far less pressure on their Republican representatives and senators—as well as on Democrat holdouts like Manchin— in order to compel them to institute measures voters want.

Data for Progress conducted a poll last September and found that overall Republican support for the Build Back Better legislation stood at just 39 percent with 52 percent opposed. Perhaps as a result of sustained propaganda aimed at further undermining confidence in the bill by not telling people what’s in it, polling by Morning Consult revealed even bleaker numbers just a month later: Republican support was at 20 percent, and about 70 percent were opposed.

However, when the provisions are examined individually, GOP backing is actually far greater. To a lesser degree, that is also true of other partisan groups, who already mostly like the proposals. The Data for Progress survey found that Independents and Democrats, for instance, favor the bill by 58 and 85 percent, respectively. Asking the very wealthy to pay their fair share, expanding Medicare services, offering free pre-kindergarten and implementing climate mitigation measures are all popular and championed across party lines. They also happen to be part of the Build Back Better act.

The 20–39 percent of Republicans who favor the bill is a rather wide range. So, as a handy point of comparison to what GOP voters actually do prefer, we can take a rounded average of the two numbers and say for the sake of argument that right-leaning support stands at about 30 percent.

Build Back Better will be funded by partially rescinding the Trump tax cut. In addition, a 5 percent added tax on those earning $10 million or more, and an additional 3 percent for those who make $25 million a year would be levied. A Vox/Data for Progress poll finds that 71 percent favor these measures. Fifty percent of Republicans do, as well. When the issue of a wealth tax (a tax on net worth) is posed in opinion surveys, Republicans approve of it by 53 percent, according to Reuters/Ipsos.

Expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits is also very popular among all voters and a crucial part of the president’s legislation. Nationwide, 83 percent are in favor of greater healthcare coverage that many existing insurance plans do not have. Based on the Data for Progress poll, 76 percent of Republicans are in agreement with 89 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Independent/third party voters on this issue.

The Build Back Better act includes free pre-K for three- and four-year-olds, which would allow millions of people to return to the workforce. Childcare comprises a very large chunk of many families’ monthly incomes, so relief on that front is unsurprisingly welcome. The legislation seeks to ensure that families would pay no more than 7 percent of their income on childcare. A poll conducted by the First Five Years Fund reveals that 74 percent of Americans favor legislation that prioritizes early education. Also, the researchers find that “66% of swing state voters and 63% of Republican voters nationwide” want their elected officials to work with the White House to make this provision a reality.

Finally, on the issue of climate, there is widespread bipartisan agreement on a number of mitigation measures. For instance, the Biden legislation calls for expanded solar panel and wind turbine infrastructure. According to a Pew Research Center poll from June 2020, both Republicans and Democrats are in agreement by very wide margins. Generally speaking, GOP voters support the development of alternative energy sources by 65 percent. What is more, 80 percent of those favor more solar and wind farms. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans are also in favor of planting more trees for carbon capture. Democratic voters back all these measures well into the 90-percentile range.

If knowledge is power, then ignorance must logically be weakness. Given the threats we face from the climate crisis, wealth and income disparities, and unequal access to healthcare, knowing the areas of agreement on these issues can be the foundation on which to build a decent, livable future.

In many ways, the American population is far ahead of its elected leaders in terms of how to better organize our society. Republican and some Democratic politicians need to get on board.

It’s up to us to make them.

Michael Slager is an English teacher at Loyola University Chicago.