By Madeleine Kunin
Editor’s note: This commentary is by former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat and the first woman to serve as the governor of the state of Vermont.
It’s dismaying to see Republicans and some conservative Democrats hacking away at President Biden’s historic budget reconciliation act.
They say it’s too expensive, without looking at what $3.5 trillion would buy in return: a more fair and equal society and a more livable Planet Earth.
They object to including the middle class in benefit plans and want to help only the poor.
That’s narrow thinking.
For example, if subsidized child care, paid medical and family leave, and two years of free community college reached the middle class, it would create a large and supportive constituency that will change lives long term.
Think of Social Security, enacted in 1935. It was hotly debated, and enacted by a close vote. All efforts to make it income-sensitive have failed. It hasn’t been attacked as “another handout” because almost every one of us is included.
Today, Social Security, with Medicare, has changed the condition of the elderly from widespread poverty to a decent standard of living for most.
Before Social Security, the poverty rate for the elderly was twice the rate than for children. Today that statistic has been turned upside down. Children suffer twice the rate of poverty as the elderly.
The president’s proposed legislation may be the equivalent of Social Security, but this time for children and working families.
What an achievement that would be for every American. But it faces strong opposition. Because of the opposition of Sens. Manchin and Sinema, subsidized child care and climate change protection may fall by the wayside.
It is ironic that Sen. Manchin lives in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the country, yet he turns his back on his own constituency, which would benefit the most from the Democratic legislation.
And as for Kyrsten Sinema, I interviewed her some years ago for a book I was writing. She was a brave and outspoken liberal, who I admired. Why the turnaround? One can only speculate.
There are so many proposals in this package that would provide greater income security for so many and stem the slide toward irreversible climate change that I’m deeply moved to see it on paper. It may be the opportunity of a lifetime.
This is our chance to reawaken the American Dream and leave a more sustainable Planet Earth for our children and generations to come.