Seriousness Builds for Build Back Better Plan
This week marks a significant turn toward the seriousness of President Biden’s and Congressional Democrats’ efforts to enact the historic social spending legislation known as the Build Back Better Act. What’s driving the urgency? Will agreement be reached? And what can the printing industry do to impact the process as it unfolds?
A Tense Trifecta: White House, Senate, and House Democrats
“The winning trifecta doesn’t show up very often. And when it does, it doesn’t last long.” So stated Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) recently, encapsulating the motivation behind a renewed zeal of the Democrat-controlled White House, Senate, and House to end ongoing internal party negotiations on the size and scope of President Biden’s signature policy proposal, the Build Back Better Act, and to pass it into law. With the Senate split 50-50 and House Republicans only needing a five seat pick up to flip that chamber’s majority, there is a practical realization that the trifecta may well end in 2022 — and that the midterm campaign season will quickly blunt any effort toward passing transformative legislation.
The concern is warranted; since 1933, only twice has the party of first-term presidents not lost seats in the midterm elections. And the largest of those losses was in 2010 when Congressional Democrats lost 63 seats in President Obama’s first term following his party’s use of the one-party reconciliation process to pass the Affordable Care Act. A steady drumbeat of House Democrat retirements (three announced just within the last week) also clouds the midterm forecast for the party. And never underestimate the power of “legacy” as a motivating factor; President Biden and Speaker Pelosi are at the twilight of their political careers.
There is also the issue of two ticking timebombs — one, funding the federal government to avoid a holiday-season shutdown, and two, raising the nation’s debt ceiling — set to detonate on December 3, the chaos of which could cause the entire Build Back Better plan to implode. Thus, seizing the moment is gaining fervor and President Biden has called for a new (scaled down) Build Back Better framework to be written and passed by Congress no later than October 31. He’s also marked this as the deadline to pass the less controversial bipartisan infrastructure bill, in effect tying the fate of the two pieces of legislation together to encourage progressive and moderate Congressional Democrats to hang together in success or to hang separately at the end of the year with no major accomplishments to tout. And because Congress rarely adheres hard and fast to arbitrary deadlines, the end of the month target date probably means the proverbial legislative sausage making will take place throughout November.
It’s not just internal politicking that is driving the timeline for Democrats, however. In any massive legislation, there are provisions that tend to sneak unnoticed across the finish line. The popular provisions, such as universal pre-K or paid family leave, are publicized widely, but as the process slows, the less popular or hastily written policies come to light and can slow down momentum. Case in point: this week, when the Build Back Better provision directing the IRS to collect additional data on every bank account that generates more than $600 in annual transactions was highlighted. (The Treasury Department has since announced a revised proposal that would apply to non-payroll bank accounts at a $10,000 threshold.) Public polling, too, tends to slip as controversial legislation languishes. While the overall Build Back Better agenda remains popular overall, specific planks of the plan poll lower. Also concerning to the majority party are rising inflation concerns, sinking favorability numbers for President Biden (40%, according to the most recent Quinnipiac Poll), a new Gallup Poll showing that the majority of Americans (52%) now say “government is doing too many things” (a reversal from last year). All of this leads to President Biden’s full court press to bring together factions of his party to pass the bill and get out of his self-created Build Back Better bubble.
Of course, none of this succeeds without 50 votes in the Senate. As of now, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are stalwart holdouts, each with their own negotiating priorities. Manchin is focused on climate provisions that could impact his home state, and Sinema has emerged as a leading opponent to both corporate taxation and drug pricing policy critical to achieving expanded health care. And as long as one or both Senators hold out, the Build Back Better plan is on ice. However, if and when both sign off on an agreement, the policy wheels will be greased to move fast.
How Can Print Impact the Process?
With the core Build Back Better drama unfolding at a negotiating table seated by only one political party — and the entire outcome hinging on one or two particular Senators — it’s hard to see how the printing industry can advocate to impact the process. And, candidly, the industry can’t influence whether or not the Build Back Better Act lives or dies. (Not even the 50 Republican Senators or entirety of House Republicans can make or break whether Build Back Better Act becomes law.)
What the printing industry CAN influence, however, is the final size, scope and content of the potential law. Already, President Biden has reduced the size of the Build Back Better plan from $3.5 trillion to $2 trillion or less. This means as government spending is cut from the original plan, the “revenue raisers” — i.e., tax increases, regulatory fees and penalties, and employer mandates needed to pay for the bill so that it will “cost nothing” — also decrease. Zeroing in on these specific revenue raisers — and combating or mitigating the impact of them — is what PRINTING United Alliance members and the industry can do NOW to influence any final impact of the Build Back Better Act.
PRINTING United Alliance has identified a host of concerning provisions and urges printing industry advocates to weigh in now with their Senators and Representatives to oppose Build Back Better provisions that hinder economic and job growth, particularly as key print customer sectors struggle to recover from the pandemic and as supply chain woes create new cost pressures. While it might be tempting view the Capitol Hill deal making or deal breaking as a far-away drama, the printing industry must in fact stay aware and take grassroots action in real-time until the bitter end of Build Back Better debate.
PRINTING United Alliance’s online Advocacy Center provides lawmaker contact information and tools for you to easily communicate policy positions to your elected officials. Access this resource here: PRINTING United Alliance Advocacy Center.
Lisbeth Lyons is Vice President, Government & Political Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, the largest, most comprehensive graphic arts trade association in the country. With more than 20 years of experience representing the voice of business on Capitol Hill, Lisbeth advocates for public policies that protect and advance the economic future of the printing and packaging industry. She oversees PRINTING United Alliance’s legislative, political, and grassroots advocacy initiatives, and has served in executive leadership of multiple successful advocacy campaigns, such as Coalition for Paper Options, Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, and Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers Coalition.
Prior to representing PRINTING United Alliance, Lisbeth served in similar roles at Printing Industries of America, US Telecom, and the National Federation of Independent Business. She also spent three years as a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, where she was on the forefront of urban education reform in the mid-1990s.
Lisbeth is Midwestern born and bred, having grown up in the St. Louis metropolitan area and attended college at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before starting her career in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in English/Sociology and a professional graduate certificate from The George Washington University School of Political Management. She lives in the historic Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC.
An avid leader and learner in professional development, Lisbeth was a founding member of the Government Relations Leadership Forum, and is an active participant in organizations such as Council of Manufacturing Associations, Women in Government Relations, and National Association of Business PACs, among others. Lisbeth is often a featured speaker at premier industry conferences; she has spoken to Boards of Directors, corporate executive management teams, and state and regional trade associations across the country from coast to coast.