The Role of Civility in Passing the Legislation
Progressive Democrats in the House have refused to vote on the infrastructure bills that have public support to obtain leverage in negotiations over a separate bill that contains huge spending on issues including increased access to childcare, help with college tuition and major action on climate change.
Analysts, meanwhile, question if the senators’ resistance to programs that President Joe Biden ran and won an election on is rooted more in a need for political self-preservation.
According to the White House website, “The Build Back Better” Agenda is an ambitious plan to create jobs, cut taxes, and lower costs for working families – all paid for by making the tax code fairer and making the wealthiest and large corporations pay their fair share. It would cost taxpayers $3.5 trillion and, according to supporters, only affect the wealthiest of American.
Supporters claim the bill would cost taxpayers nothing because it would be paid for by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy people earning over $400,000, many of whom pay no taxes because they have identified loopholes in the tax law or otherwise engaged in transactions that cut their net income thereby reducing taxable income and the tax on it.
The agenda will not pass in its current form because two senators have, so far, come out against the bill. They want it pared down. Fifty votes are needed in the Senate to pass the bill. There are 50 Democratic Senators. Losing two would mean the bill can’t pass.
The two holdouts are Joe Manchin (Dem. West Virginia) and Krysten Sinema (Dem. Arizona). They have their reasons for not supporting the expansion of social programs under the bill. Critics claim they are, in effect, holding the president’s priorities hostage to their personal whims.
I don’t want to argue the merits of the bill in today’s blog. Instead, I am concerned by the actions of some who aggressively encountered Manchin and Sinema to get them to change their votes so the bill would pass.
What upsets me, you might ask? It’s the blatant loss of civility in the way detractors accosted each senator to pressure them to change their vote on the bill. In the case of Manchin, hours after he stood firm on a topline of $1.5 trillion for the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package pushed by President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he was set upon by protesters who kayaked up to his Washington, D.C. houseboat. Protesting like this during a family event is an anathema to me. If someone or a group wants to protest, they should do so outside his office in the Senate or at a meeting with constituents.
As for Sinema, police at Arizona State University said Monday they were investigating an incident that involved young activists confronting Sinema in a campus bathroom about her opposition to the size of a $3.5 trillion spending bill filled with Biden’s priorities. Accosting anyone while they are in the bathroom is outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.
I have often said that “we need to learn how to disagree with each other without being disagreeable.” This is the essence of civility. Absent a civil society, which we are rapidly becoming, the tenor of debate in the country is built on an “us versus them” approach to decision-making. It is a losing proposition, at least for the advancement of causes that do have good parts to it and the relevant legislation be adopted by Congress.
When asked about these incidents, Biden agreed it wasn’t the best strategy. “I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody … the only people it doesn’t happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them,” Biden said. “So, it’s — it’s part of the process.”
The real question is should it be a part of the process. Is it a violation of one’s freedom of movement? Are the offenders trying to stifle free speech and the expression of that Constitutional right?
As a proponent of civility and ethical behavior in general, I was appalled by the behavior of those against the positions of Manchin and Sinema. It sets the wrong tone about how we need to come together as a nation and get things done that benefit the American public, even if it means compromise.
Compromise has been said to be the “art of politics.” In today’s world intolerance and selfishness have crowded out true compromise. One reason is civility is not recognized by many as an ethical value in society. It’s more of an attitude of what’s in it for me”?
I hope we can resolve the impasse over the $3.5 trillion bill. There are many good features of the bill that would help Americans and their families, I do have my doubts that it will cost taxpayers (at least those making less than $400,000) nothing. Moreover, I am concerned that it builds in social programs that would exist far into the future. Does the benefit of the proposed new entitlement programs outweigh the costs to achieve that goal?
This is the key point. Will it really cost taxpayers nothing? I have my doubts. In defense of the no-cost-tax argument, there is talk of taxing unrealized gains on investment transactions to pay for some of the new spending programs. This is a complicated issue, but it all comes down to this: If you buy a stock at $1,000 and on December 31 its fair market value is $2,000. Assume you haven’t sold the stock, which would have triggered a tax on the capital gains if it was sold, you still pay tax on the $1,000 increase in fair market value. Why? According to the to the capital gains tax supporters, you have just “gained wealth,” of $1,000 ($2,000-$1,000)—at least on paper-- even without the sale.
If the taxing plan on unrealized gains goes forward to partly pay for the bill, then what happens if the stock cost $2,000 and the stock value on December 31 goes down $1,000? Does the taxpayer get a refund? Should they get a refund, or at least lower their taxable income by $1,000. Out of fairness, it would seem so just as capital losses when stocks are sold at a loss trigger a lower tax due.
There is much more to say about these issues that I hope they will be discussed in Congress so that our representatives are fully informed about the tax consequences of passing and paying for the new bill. In the past, it seems as though some bills were passed without understanding all the consequences. Some argue this happened with Obamacare.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on October 5, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.