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Build Back Better, Explained

Earlier this year Congress passed the American Rescue Plan which provided desperately needed relief to millions of people. President Biden and Congress are now focused on Recovery to build back our economy and restructure it to benefit all people.

The American Jobs Plan (AJP) is the first part of Biden’s Build Back Better Package, and it works to address physical infrastructure and the care economy. We expect the President to release a second plan later that will address other critical parts of Recovery focused on human infrastructure.

There are many components of a fully robust and inclusive Recovery that we hope to see in this second package, both of which should ultimately be combined into a single bill signed into law over the next few months. However, this resource is more narrowly focused on how Biden’s proposal stacks up against the demands you’ve all been powerfully amplifying within the THRIVE Agenda.

Here at Indivisible we have been working hard with partners and congressional offices on the THRIVE Agenda, which is the bold, progressive plan for Recovery. THRIVE includes massive investments to get the economy running again and to help build up communities, and demands that Recovery goes beyond the pandemic and invests in and restores communities that have been devastated by multiple, historic, and overlapping crises like mass unemployment, racial injustice, a public health crisis, and climate change.

Importantly THRIVE goes big on Size, Scope and Standards. The scope of Biden’s plan and the standards included in it mostly mirror the THRIVE Agenda, but Biden’s plan falls woefully short in terms of the overall size of investments made. This resource will provide an overview of the AJP and also detail the major differences between AJP and THRIVE.

What to look for in Recovery

Size: We need big, bold investments in order to create the jobs needed to address mass unemployment, racial injustice, a public health crisis, and climate change.

Scope: The scope of recovery needs to be broad in order to touch all sectors of the economy and usher in a transformative regenerative economy with lasting benefits for all.

Standards: In order to tackle the climate crisis, address racial inequality, and build worker power all investments must be tied to strong environmental, equity, and labor standards. Without these, we will have the same unjust economy that concentrates wealth at the very top.

Speed: We must pass recovery quickly, both because it is urgently needed and because there is a short political window during which we can pass bold legislation.

What is In the American Jobs Plan?

Hot on the heels of passing the ARP Biden has demonstrated he understands the urgency of immediately passing a bold Recovery package. While we applaud the broad scope of investments and standards outlined in the AJP are are disappointed by the size of investments in Biden’s plan.

The Size of AJP

First off, the bad news the AJP falls far short of what is needed to address the climate, racial justice, and economic crises facing this country. Biden has proposed spending $2.3 trillion for recovery. However, economists have made clear we need at least three times that investment if we are to create a lasting recovery for all people.

When investments fall short of what is needed, that means jobs are not produced. In order to end the unemployment crisis we are facing we need 15 million good jobs to be created over the next 10 years. The AJP does not achieve this critical goal. As the Recovery baton is passed to Congress, Democrats must ensure that the size of recovery exceeds Biden’s proposal so that we can end the unemployment crisis. That means investing $1 trillion a year over the next decade, while ensuring the scope of investments is broad, and expanding the standards tied to these jobs.

The Scope of AJP

On to some better news, the scope of Biden’s first proposal is promising with investments across many sectors of our economy. Here is a breakdown of what some of those sector specific investments look like:

  • Updating our Transportation AJP invests in repairing our crumbling roads, bridges, waterways and airports. Importantly, this plan also invests in public transit, rail and electric vehicles and infrastructure.
  • Building climate resilience Biden works to increase the resiliency of essential resources that keep people and communities safe like the electric grid, food systems, and critical infrastructure. The plan also works to strengthen and restore natural nature-based infrastructure. These efforts are critical because we know that Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are more likely to live in areas most vulnerable to climate related disasters.
  • Investing in the care Economy Biden expands access to long-term care services under Medicaid and ensures this expansion results in well-paying caregiving jobs that include benefits and the ability to collectively bargain.
  • Broadband for all AJP works to provide high-speed broadband to all Americans, while prioritizing rural and tribal communities who have long lacked access to broadband.
  • Providing safe water AJP begins to address the lead pipe and clean drinking water crisis in America by replacing lead pipes across the country and delivering clean drinking water.
  • Upgrading Energy Infrastructure AJP puts us on track to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035. Furthermore, this plan works to increase the resiliency of our grid, and invests in clean energy by extending tax credits and pushing for a Clean Energy Standard (note that the way this is defined will be hugely important, and a piece we’ll be keeping a close eye on).
  • Protecting lands Importantly, this plan eliminates fossil fuel subsidies and makes polluters pay for environmental clean up. Additionally, Biden’s plan works to curb pollution by plugging orphan oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines, investing in the remediation and redevelopment of these Brownfield and Superfund sites, and establishing a new Civilian Climate Corps.
  • Upgrading Buildings AJP invests in retrofitting and modernizing million homes and commercial buildings, schools, community colleges, VA hospitals, public housing and child care facilities.
  • Revitalizing Manufacturing This includes pandemic protection, federal procurement for domestic clean energy goods, support for small businesses, and creating a Rural Partnership Program to help rural regions, including Tribal Nation work towards and achieve inclusive community and economic development.
  • Investing in Workforce Development Biden calls for a new Dislocated Workers Program to assist workers who have lost their job. The AJP also ensures workforce development projects and jobs be made in underserved communities, and invests in apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships programs to build workforce development opportunities.
  • Take on Corporate Greed AJP includes a tax plan to incentivize job creation and investment in the US, stop corporations from unfair and wasteful profit shifting to tax havens, and ensure that large corporations are paying their fair share.

The scope demonstrated in Bidens AJP is a welcome first step. It is clear that in order to create a true Recovery we need investments to be made across all sectors of the economy.

As Congress gets to work, they should recognize the President’s desire to ensure Recovery is broad and push to make the scope even more inclusive.

The Standards of AJP

In addition to being far reaching in scope, Biden’s plan includes important labor, justice, and climate standards. Dedicating 40% of benefits to frontline communities is critical as we work to invest in communities that have borne the brunt of an extractive economy for decades, have consistently been left out of recovery opportunities, and have faced deadly consequences in the wake of COVID.

Furthermore, the strong labor standards in AJP ensure that the jobs created are good jobs, that include family sustaining wages and access to unions. This is important because we don’t want the same low paying extractive jobs that have left many workers vulnerable to economic shocks and shifts, and stripped them of their collective power.

Finally, the climate standards in AJP cut pollution, end fossil fuel subsidies, and prioritize jobs that address environmental injustice and the climate crisis are a vital part of decarbonizing our nation and creating a recovery that results in a sustainable and regenerative economy.

The THRIVE Agenda

Now that Biden has presented his American Jobs Plan, Congress has the opportunity to build on that plan and pass the type of bold, transformative package we know this moment demands. The good news is that they already have the THRIVE Agenda to establish the size, scope, and standards of the final package.

This Agenda goes further than the Biden proposal, truly meets the scale of the interlocking crises we face, and will help us push negotiations in Congress to the left. The good news is that THRIVE already has a lot of champions in the House and Senate, including Majority Leader Schumer. During Recovery we will work to hold MOCs to their commitments and push them to pass a Recovery package grounded in THRIVE.

Size

THRIVE goes big! The investments in THRIVE would create 15 million family sustaining jobs over the next 10 years- enough to end the unemployment crisis. It does this by investing $1 trillion a year over the next decade in job producing projects like updating our clean water infrastructure, investing in sustainable agriculture, transportation, clean renewable energy and energy efficiency, and a lot more.

The Political Economy Research Institute issued a report showing the results of THRIVE investments on the economy. This report breaks down the investments made by sector and shows the jobs produced as a result of those investments. Importantly, the study also found that THRIVE investments and standards would generate increased wages, higher unionization rates, equitable hiring and distribution of benefits.

Congress must meet the ambition of THRIVE by ensuring the investments made result in the 15 million jobs needed to end the unemployment crisis. Again, these investments need to be made with strong standards and be invested in all parts of the economy.

Scope

The broad scope of Biden’s plan is exciting, but not surprising. Many organizations, including Indivisible, have been putting pressure on Biden and Congressional leadership to make the Build Back Better plan is as close to THRIVE as possible.

So it makes sense that the AJP invests in many of the sectors that are in THRIVE, which is good news. That being said, we always want to be pushing for closer alignment. Congress must fill in the gaps left in Biden’s plan by creating a Recovery package that centers tribal sovereignty and healing the nation-to-nation relationship with sovereign American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. Biden’s package also misses a huge opportunity to invest in our agricultural sector, a move that would help tackle the climate crisis, address racial injustice, and create jobs.

THRIVE works to strengthen and heal the nation-to-nation relationship with sovereign American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, which is not mentioned in the AJP. Any Recovery must expand investments specifically set aside for Tribes and indigenous communities; strengthen Tribal sovereignty, uphold American Indian and Native tribal treaty rights; and codify Free, Prior, and Informed Consent so that Indigenous peoples can determine the outcome of all decision-making that affects them. Congress must recognize that no Recovery can take place until Native nations are the ones making the decisions about projects that impact their people and their lands.

THRIVE also invests in the agricultural sector by creating opportunities for critical practices like farmland conservation and investments in organic and regenerative agriculture to help address our climate crisis. It also builds local and regional food systems to support climate and community resilience. Importantly, THRIVE also works to support Black farmers and ranchers who make up just over 1 percent of farmers, only half of whom own their farmland. This is a historic opportunity to repair this severe, racist, and systemic inequality. Finally, investing in agriculture creates jobs, over one million to be more specific. Congress should work to include agriculture in any Recovery package put forward as it is critical to addressing the climate crisis, combating racial injustice, and creating millions of jobs. In all, Biden has done well in closely following the scope of THRIVE, and moving forward Congress must continue this trajectory by including these missing pieces.

Standards

The standards Biden put out in AJP are good, but as Congress takes over the Recovery fight, we will push them to meet the standards in THRIVE which go beyond what is included in the AJP.

AJP calls for 40% of benefits to go to disadvantaged communities, however benefits are subjective and don’t always meet the needs of communities. Importantly, THRIVE calls for 50% of funds to be invested in or directly benefit impacted communities. 50% of investments is greater than the 40% we see in the AJP and also ensures that both benefits as well as direct financial investments go to communities.

Additionally, THRIVE standards work to protect frontline communities against policies that are harmful. THRIVE is careful to warn against policies and investments that further geoengineering technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, and energy sources that harm environmental justice, frontline communities, and the environment. Biden’s AJP do not clearly articulate this goal and it is important that Congress understands that you cannot claim a commitment to addressing pollution while you invest in and create new sources of pollution.

Speed

It is critical that Congress pass the Recovery package quickly. People are in desperate need of Recovery now. Importantly, we do not have a natural deadline attached to the bill like we saw in Relief, so we must be clear-eyed and aggressive about passing a Recovery package before the end of the summer.

We know that Biden likes to talk about bipartisanship, and there is a real danger that Democrats fall into this trap. It is our job to remind Democrats that not one single Republican voted for the American Rescue Plan. We absolutely cannot waste time negotiating with Republicans who will never vote for final passage of a Recovery bill and will only waste time at the expense of the American people who are suffering.

Luckily, we have some great partners in this fight. Indivisible will be working with progressives to push to not only make the Recovery package as big and ambitious as possible, but also to create a sense of urgency. Constituents can also put pressure on their MOC to let them know that you want recovery now!

Progressive Voting Bloc

Given the slim majority of Democrats in the House, progressives have the ability to commit their votes together as a voting bloc and use that leverage in legislative negotiations to secure progressive wins and prevent harmful compromises. This is what happened in Relief and resulted in some huge wins. We are looking to replicate this play for Recovery and are currently working with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to identify policy priorities to coalesce around.