With a more solid majority in the Senate, Democrats would be able to pass stalled legislation to invest in clean energy and close tax loopholes for the richest Americans.
President Joe Biden acknowledged on July 15 that, with every Republican and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in opposition, the current Senate would not pass the bulk of his Build Back Better spending plan.
In response, several Democratic Senate candidates around the country have said they would be happy to provide the one necessary additional vote in the next Congress to pass the bill, which would fund taking action to deal with the climate crisis, expanding clean energy, and closing tax loopholes for the richest Americans.
Biden ran for president in 2020 on a promise to invest billions of dollars in climate and social infrastructure and to pay for it through higher taxes for the wealthy and big businesses. He repeatedly vowed not to raise taxes a penny for anyone making less than $400,000 annually.
In October 2021, he released a $1.75 trillion Build Back Better framework that included a $555 billion investment in clean energy and fighting climate change, $400 billion for affordable child care and free pre-K education, a permanent child tax credit expansion, and funds for affordable housing, home care, and health care expansion. It was fully paid for through a corporate minimum tax, a tax increase for the wealthiest 0.02% of Americans, a crackdown on rich tax evaders, and the closure of tax loopholes used by millionaires.
Though every Republican in Congress immediately opposed the bill, the House passed it in November by a vote of 220-213.
Senate Democrats hoped to circumvent a GOP filibuster by using budget reconciliation rules, which allow a simple majority to pass fiscal measures, but Manchin rejected the package and demanded significant changes. After months of negotiations with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a compromise, the conservative Democrat announced on July 14 that he would not support a package with the climate and revenue provisions included, leaving the Democratic majority one vote short.
"Action on climate change and clean energy remains more urgent than ever," Biden said in response. "So let me be clear: if the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment."
But experts say drastic efforts are urgently needed to address what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres last year called the "code red" crisis presented by climate change. Democratic majorities in the next Congress would be in a position to undertake such efforts.
If Democrats keep their majority in the House in the November 2022 midterm elections, they would only need to gain one additional Senate seat to have a majority that could pass the climate and revenue proposals.
The American Independent Foundation asked nine Democratic candidates running for GOP-held Senate seats about climate change and infrastructure. The six that had responded by press time indicated that they would back climate action in the Senate.
In Iowa, retired Navy Vice Admiral Mike Franken is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is seeking his eighth six-year term. In an email, Franken campaign manager Julie Stauch wrote, "Michael Franken will be ready to support smart climate and clean energy policy and infrastructure on day one. Chuck Grassley's oil & fossil fuel industry friends won't like having to pay, after all the years of government handouts."
In Ohio, Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan is facing author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance for the open seat of retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Ryan, who voted for Build Back Better in the House, said in a statement received from his campaign that he would keep fighting for it and other progressive policies in the Senate:
The Senate is where good ideas go to die, and it will remain that way until and unless we elect more senators who will fight every day to cut workers in on the deal. I've been very clear that we're forty years overdue to tip the balance of power back to working people in this country, and I'll keep working to do just that — retooling our economy to dominate the industries of the future right here in Ohio, investing in our team so workers here can compete and win, and making sure families have a little breathing room by raising wages, making child care affordable, and finally passing a permanent working-class tax cut.
In Wisconsin, several Democratic candidates will face off in an Aug. 9 primary for the party's nomination against embattled Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson.
A spokesperson for Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said that "he would support the climate provisions and making the wealthy pay their fair share if he were in the Senate."
"Joe Manchin just shut down a bill that would've created thousands of good jobs and helped to tackle the climate crisis," Barnes tweeted on Friday. "Make no mistake, this is what's on the line in November. We need a 51st vote to make change for working people — and that's exactly what I'll be."
In an email received from her campaign, Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said:
Washington's business-as-usual isn't working for Wisconsin's workers and families and this is proof of that. Wisconsinites know that when things get hard, you can't just throw up your hands, and neither can the Senate. When I'm elected to the U.S. Senate, I'll fight for common sense solutions like permanently expanding the child tax credit, making the ultra wealthy and giant corporations pay their fair share, and transitioning Wisconsin from brown energy to green energy–just to name a few.
Alex Lasry, an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks baseball organization, said in an email received from his campaign, "This is a perfect example of the stakes of this election. When I defeat Ron Johnson in November, I'll vote to eliminate the filibuster, and we'll pass much needed reform on climate change, infrastructure, and we'll ban assault weapons. We can't sit around and wait for people to do the right thing, we've got to beat Ron Johnson and pass the reforms our communities need."
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, who formerly served as majority leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly, said in a message received from his campaign:
It is absolutely critical we beat Ron Johnson, the most unpopular Senator in America, so we are no longer held hostage to Joe Manchin and his big oil and big coal backers. I'm the only candidate in this Senate race for a Green New deal that can create millions of good paying union jobs and so we can stop depending on Petrostates like Russia and Saudi Arabia for our energy needs. And we can't trust other millionaire candidates to tax the rich to fund the priorities we need.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who is challenging incumbent Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, voted for the Build Back Better plan in the House.
Polls consistently show strong public support for the Build Back Better agenda.
A May survey of likely voters by the political advocacy groups Data for Progress and Invest in America found 71% support for the provisions raising taxes for the wealthiest Americans and 68% support for "ramping up the use of clean energy, like solar and wind power."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.