Paul Krugman explains why there will be ‘huge human costs’ if Manchin kills Biden’s economic agenda

Paul Krugman explains why there will be ‘huge human costs’ if Manchin kills Biden’s economic agenda
(Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the September jobs report, Friday, October 8, 2021, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House.


A long list of Democrats on Capitol Hill were bitterly disappointed when Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, during an appearance on Fox News over the weekend, declared that he is still a “no” vote on the Build Back Better Act. In 2022, President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress mat somehow manage to come up with a watered-down version of BBB that Manchin and another decidedly centrist Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, will agree to. But it remains unclear whether and how that's possible.

Liberal economist Paul Krugman, this week in his New York Times column, stresses that there are some crucial reasons why Biden’s economic agenda and elements of the BBB Act need to move forward.

“I…. don’t know what, if anything, can be saved from the Build Back Better framework,” Krugman writes. “What I do know is that there will be huge human and, yes, economic costs if Biden’s moderate but crucial spending plans fall by the wayside.”

The 68-year-old economist goes on to cite specific elements of the Build Back Better Act that he hopes will not be abandoned.

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“Failure to enact a decent social agenda would condemn millions of American children to poor health and low earnings in adulthood — because that’s what growing up in poverty does,” Krugman warns. “It would condemn millions more to inadequate medical care and financial ruin if they got ill, because that’s what happens when people lack adequate health insurance. It would condemn hundreds of thousands, maybe more, to unnecessary illness and premature death from air pollution, even aside from the intensified risk of climate catastrophe.”

Krugman adds, “I’m not speculating here. There’s overwhelming evidence that children in low-income families who receive financial aid are significantly healthier and more productive than those who didn’t once they become adults. Uninsured Americans often lack access to needed medical care and face unaffordable bills. And studies show that policies to mitigate climate change will also yield major health benefits from cleaner air over the next decade.”

The United States continues to be the only major developed country that doesn’t have some form of universal health care, be it a government-operated system like the one in the U.K. (the National Health Service, or NHS) or a system that is privatized yet subject to very strict government regulations and operated much like a public utility. Nonetheless, millions of previously uninsured Americans have obtained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act of 2010, widely known as Obamacare —which, according to CNN, is “set” to enjoy “record enrollment” in 2022.

Krugman, in his Times column, has applauded Biden for wanting to expand Obamacare. And he notes the connection between access to health care and life expectancy.

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“It’s not clear how many Americans realize the extent to which we’re falling behind other nations in terms of meeting basic human needs,” Krugman observes. “For example, I still keep running into people who believe that we have the world’s highest life expectancy, when the reality is that we can expect to live between three and five fewer years than citizens of most European countries.”

Following his Fox News appearance, Manchin issued an official statement offering some reasons why he remains a “no” vote on the BBB Act. And Krugman wraps up his Times column by arguing that the centrist Democrat’s statement comes across as GOP “talking points” rather than sound economic policy.

“The letter he released to explain why he said what he said on Fox News doesn’t read like a carefully worked-out policy statement,” Krugman laments. “It doesn’t even read like a coherent ideological manifesto. Indeed, it feels rushed — a grab bag of Republican talking points hastily trotted out in an attempt to justify his abrupt betrayal and to portray himself as a victim. Sorry, but no. America — not a senator who’s taking heat for a broken promise — is the victim in this story.”

However, Biden claimed this week that he is still working with Manchin to achieve a deal.

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