August 27, 2021

By Adam DuBard

Following the passage of the heralded bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate, President Biden and the Democratic leadership had a clear message for Americans: they were just getting started. Although the bipartisan bill contained $550 billion in new spending for infrastructure, many of the Biden administration’s top priorities, including initiatives targeting climate change, childcare, healthcare, and affordable college were left out.

Here’s where the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill comes in, which includes plans for universal pre-k, tuition-free community college, and the creation of a civilian climate corps. Democratic leadership planned to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill simultaneously in order to ensure party unity.

Reconciliation is a complicated process – all you need to know is that due to Congressional rules, a reconciliation bill can pass through both the House and the Senate with a simple majority, therefore bypassing the Senate filibuster. This is how Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and how Republicans passed their tax reform bill in 2017. The first step in reconciliation is both chambers of Congress passing what is known as a budget resolution.

However, nine House Democrats, also known as the “Mod Squad,” sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatening to vote against the budget resolution unless the bipartisan Senate bill was passed first. With Democrats only holding an eight seat advantage in the House, this would be enough to block the reconciliation bill, effectively blocking crucial components of President Biden’s legislative agenda that he campaigned on.

Curiously enough, these nine Democrats, led by New Jersey Representative Josh Gottheimer, don’t all hail from swing districts. Five of the nine represent districts that are reliably Democratic, with partisan leanings of D+7 or more. In fact, eight of the nine Democrats represent districts won by President Biden. So what then, could explain their willingness to break with their party and jeopardize President Biden’s legislative agenda?

Table of Nine Democratic Districts’ Partisan Voter Index from Cook Political Report

The answer, as we see so often in American politics, is money. This week, David Sirota reported for Newsweek that all nine politicians have received massive amounts of campaign donations from the fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries.

Of course, the reconciliation infrastructure bill contains numerous initiatives that would have significant implications for the “Mod Squad’s” corporate backers. One of the most notable is enabling Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug costs, which would save an estimated $345 billion in drug costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This measure is something that has significant popular support – according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from May 2021, 88% of respondents supported the measure!

However, public support doesn’t matter when you’re raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from Big Pharma. According to Open Secrets, Rep. Gottheimer and Rep. Schrader have received $228,186 and $614,830, respectively, from the healthcare industry since they were elected. They’re joined by Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has voiced her own displeasure with the reconciliation bill, notably after receiving over $500,000 in campaign funds from the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

Not to be outdone, the fossil fuel industry has spent millions of dollars to prevent any meaningful legislation to address climate change from passing. Naturally, plenty of this money has flowed to these nine Democrats. As Democrats seek to enact measures to combat the worsening climate crisis, including pollution fees for corporations, the fossil fuel industry has jumped into action to protect their profits.

Altogether, these nine Democrats have raked in almost $2.5 million in campaign funds from the oil and gas industry.

Passing the For the People Act is more critical than ever.

This is just another example of how critical passing the For the People Act is to protecting American democracy. For too long, billionaires and massive corporations have wielded massive influence over American politicians with no repercussions.

This is not how a healthy democracy functions. The House has already acted, now we need this bill to pass the Senate in order to safeguard our democracy and root out corruption. The For the People Act would take on the lobbyists, billionaires, and corporations who consistently fund their own interests at the cost of the American people.

To fight the influence of dark money and corruption, take 30 seconds to send a message to your Senator urging them to  vote YES on the For the People Act when it comes to the floor.

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.