Opinion

On Build Back Better, Kansans deserve better from their representatives

December 15, 2021 3:33 am

President Joe Biden listens as he is introduced to deliver remarks on the Build Back Better agenda on July 7, 2021, at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Thomas Weiss is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Kansas and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

What a surprise. Our Republican representatives in Congress are unanimously opposed to the Build Back Better bill.

They defend their position with some of the most curious arguments, offering mostly generic and unsupported claims about terrible things that might happen. They say “Democrats point out a few select policies in this bill which they think can be marketed,” but overall the bill is “reckless, irresponsible and disastrous,” “reeked of socialism” and is “incapable of creating economic growth.” Really? Kansans deserve better explanations than this. What are these reckless, irresponsible and socialist items?

Since they didn’t tell me, I did my own research to identify these disastrous things. This was a more daunting task than I anticipated; the bill is very long and includes a wide variety of items that emerged from all the various House committees. Nevertheless, I discovered that those “few” select policies that Democrats emphasize can also be labeled the major components of the bill.

According to Moody’s Analytics, the biggest component of the Build Back Better bill is for “clean energy and combating climate change,” which accounts for about 32% of its total spending. Included are programs related to the development and diffusion of technologies, such as wind turbines and electric cars, that will reduce pollution; as well as forestry and land management. Some people might see government support to spur the development of wind energy and electric vehicles as socialist, but if so the entire government-supported oil and gas industry has been socialist for decades. And subsidized Kansas farmers will have to live with that label as well.

While a program to spur development of advanced technology vehicles may be of interest to those in Wichita, there are many other items for rural Kansans, such as grants for lead remediation, agricultural research, biofuel infrastructure and agriculture product market expansion, assistance for rural electric cooperatives, a high-efficiency electric home rebate program, and the list goes on and on. Do these programs reek of socialism? Will these programs not create jobs? Yet our Republican representatives want us to think so.

Some people might see government support to spur the development of wind energy and electric vehicles as socialist, but if so the entire government-supported oil and gas industry has been socialist for decades. And subsidized Kansas farmers will have to live with that label as well.

– Thomas Weiss

U.S. Rep Jake LaTurner disparaged the legislation for one of its most obscure provisions.

“Democrats want to spend $2,500,000,000 on TREE EQUITY. You can’t make this stuff up,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Nov. 2.

He may be right that most people could not make this up, especially those who lack empathy for low-income households. He is complaining about the urban and community forest program, which has been around since 1978 and is designed to increase the “tree canopy and (its) associated societal and climate co-benefits.”

The $2.5 billion expenditure, which equals a little more than one-tenth of 1% of the bill’s total, ensures that trees get planted in low-income neighborhoods, not only in wealthy areas and around suburban shopping malls.

The next biggest items provide funding for child care services and universal preschool (23% of the total); better access to health care via more affordable home care for the sick and elderly, funds to lower insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act and adding hearing benefits to Medicare (18%); tax credits for children under the age of 17 and Earned Income Tax credits (11%); and programs to increase affordable housing by providing funds to help first-generation homebuyers with down payments and mortgages, and funds for constructing and rehabilitating rural homes, including rental properties for farm labor (9%). 

If you think these might be the irresponsible and reckless items, you should read last week’s coverage from the Reflector. These are social programs designed to benefit society. They are not socialist in the sense Republicans want you to think. Even if they were socialist, perhaps many Kansans would still say, “Bring them on.” Or, at least, “Bring them to our attention and let us weigh the pros and cons.”

There is a bigger issue that goes beyond this particular bill. Why do our representatives continually misinform us and try to keep us from learning the facts? Is it asking too much of them to inform us about the major content of the legislation, instead of only trying to scare us? Let us decide whether it is socialist or not, reckless or beneficial.

Kansans deserve representatives who will work on our behalf instead of just being rabble-rousers.

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Thomas Weiss
Thomas Weiss

Thomas Weiss is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Kansas and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was co-editor of the Journal of Economic History and is a past president of the Economic History Association. He has published on a variety of topics in U.S. economic history, such as the growth of the service industries in the United States, industrialization in the antebellum South, economic growth before 1860, economic growth in the British North American colonies, and most recently on the economic history of tourism and the dining history of James Bond.

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