The Schumer-Manchin bill is 'conservative.' So what?: Opinion

The Schumer-Manchin bill is 'conservative.' So what?: Opinion
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The details are still being combed through but it’s safe to say that the bargain struck Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and US Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is a BFD.

It isn’t what the Democrats had hoped for months ago, but it’s still huge when you look at what it does. According to the Post this morning, the Inflation Reduction Act “would represent one of the most consequential pieces of economic policy in recent US history.”

The package includes (this is also from the Post): $260 billion in clean-energy tax credits; $80 billion in new rebates for electric vehicles, green energy at home and more; $1.5 billion for cutting methane emissions; $27 billion “green bank”; support for fossil fuel projects; closure of carried interest loophole; lowering drug prices.

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I have assigned Noah Berlatsky, the Editorial Board’s political economy correspondent, to write an explainer next week before the Senate and House vote on pending legislation. I’ll leave the granular details to him, but I wanted to offer a few observations of my own.

“Conservative” legislation

As I said, the bill does not include so-called human infrastructure that Joe Biden’s $3 trillion Build Back Better act called for, such as child care, housing, eldercare and paid-leave programs. But those things were probably already dead given an evenly divided Senate.

Indeed, they were probably already dead, because the party’s conservatives, principally Manchin, do not like, for ideological reasons, government programs that help the poor, the vulnerable and the weak. That’s just the way it is. If voters want to change that dynamic, they have a chance to in the coming midterm elections.

READ MORE: Oil companies earn record-shattering profits as high prices squeeze consumers

Given that reality, it’s nothing short of a miracle for Manchin to say yes to some provisions, such as a new 15 percent minimum income tax on corporations making more than $1 billion a year. The biggest firms – the Fortune 500 – often pay 0 percent (or even less than 0).

Another provision gives the IRS its biggest budget increase in its history, according to the Post. That’s a BFD, because the Republicans have been starving the agency for at least two decades so that the very obscenely rich can avoid sharing the burden of the cost of a civilized society that in turn makes them so very obscenely rich.

As much as $1.4 trillion can be recouped with a beefier IRS, according to experts. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said an anemic IRS has meant that $7 trillion has not been collected over the last decade.

So even though Sinema put the kibosh on repealing the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the very obscenely rich, the deal gets by her by establishing a floor for corporate income taxes and by empowering the agency charged with collecting those taxes.

That’s a good deal, though it’s a conservative one.

Democratic conservative

That the Inflation Reduction Act is a conservative package of legislation is a fact worth dwelling on because the Republicans stopped being conservative a long time ago. With a few exceptions, nearly all of them are all-in on white-power politics. There’s nothing conservative about blowing up democracy in order to protect it.

That fact alone might not be apparent to that great globular middle of American politics, respectable white people. But it might be when set side by side with the Inflation Reduction Act. The package should indicate to respectable white people that the Democrats are the full spectrum of legitimate politics – one that includes conservatives.

It even makes room for a new vision of conservatism.

Instead of cutting taxes, this Democratic conservatism raises taxes on the very obscenely rich not only to raise needed revenue but to reduce inflation. (The name of the bill is not mere propaganda.)

Instead of getting the government out of the way so that markets can flourish, this Democratic conservatism creates markets, and all the jobs that come with them, for green energy and green tech. It invests in entrepreneurs in green goods and services and otherwise establishes market conditions for people to make green money.

Instead of cutting services, like the Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credits, it expands them. Instead of letting markets rip people off, it brings down drug prices. Instead of forcing normal people to pay for most of a civilized republic, it forces the very obscenely rich to carry their share – by closing the “carried interest loophole.” (If you’re still looking for “compassionate conservatism,” here it is.)

If we have to have conservatives – and let’s face it, they are not going anywhere despite having been alienated from the Republican Party – let them be Democratic conservatives, the kind willing to bargain. And let the rest of the party of legitimate politics show them that they can get what they want – while keeping faith in democracy – so they don’t feel pulled back by the party of illegitimate politics.

Democratic conservatism is not as good as Democratic liberalism. To get Manchin’s support, Schumer agreed to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. That’s bad, but not as bad as what the Republicans would offer. They don’t want to conserve. They want to destroy.

They want to maximize humiliation and suffering. The Democrats want to minimize it while giving people ways to pursue happiness.

Real conservatives should welcome that.

The rest of us should welcome them.

READ MORE: Methane emissions underscore the need for stricter regulations

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