On Tuesday, there was another typical announcement by the Democrats that a budget deal is imminent, with word that action to lower prescription drug prices—highly popular with the public—is back in the package after being taken out previously. On Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is putting a paid leave provision back into the House bill even though its future may be dim in the Senate. Like everything else about the package and the ostensible deal on drug prices, negotiations are behind closed doors—which is the lobbyists' paradise, precisely where they can have maximum leverage.
Even though the original Democratic package was of profound benefit for working families—on health care, paid leave, taxation, environment, energy and more—the public was not provided with basic information about the proposals, though the lobbyists swarmed over every detail in the backrooms of Congress. There have been few policy papers, little or no testimony in Congress, and few assessments by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
While 100 Senators ostensibly represent 331 million Americans, we hear daily only about two—that Manchin doesn't want this and Sinema doesn't want that. Suddenly, one day, higher corporate income taxes—important and popular with the public—are off the table because Sinema opposes them. Manchin scuttled President Joe Biden's clean power policy without public debate.
Yet it's the Democratic Party's job, and Biden's job in particular, to beat a highly unpopular lobby that has poisoned the planet, not to surrender to it. Manchin says he acts to benefit the people of his state, but it's their true interests he should be serving.
Manchin is utterly failing to do that. There is no state in the country more in need of Biden's transformative investments than West Virginia, the state with the lowest life expectancy in the country, and among the worst in educational quality. In a normal world, not America's corrupted politics, Manchin would be railing against corporate privileges and leading the charge against the super-rich, so that his state could have a decent future.
We are told daily that since Biden has only 50 Democratic votes in the Senate, Manchin and Sinema hold all the cards, and that in effect the lobbyists have triumphed. Yet that is a disastrously defeatist perspective.
It means surrendering on crucial measures without a fight, which is what Biden and the other Democratic leaders seem to be doing. Yet would Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson have folded their hands because a couple of Democratic senators were siding with lobbyists?
Where are Biden's trips to West Virginia and Arizona to rally support for his legislation? Where are the fireside chats with the American people? Where are Biden's attempts to corral votes among the Republican Senators on highly popular issues including paid family leave, lower drug prices and a clean-energy future?
We need a new politics, in which policies are openly debated in Congress, the public is kept well informed, and the people's representatives stand up for their constituents' needs rather than for the corporate lobbies.
It may seem naïve to believe that America could achieve this kind of politics, so deep is the role of money in politics, once again exposed in Virginia's expensive election. Yet we must try. The lobbyists are leading us to a nation starkly divided between rich and the poor while companies have free rein to trash the environment. We must fight back and reclaim politics for the common good.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jeffrey D. Sachs.