The absurdity of moderation

Moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin (right) of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema (left) of Arizona (Gage Skidmore/Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin)

Brenden Hill

The long-awaited American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief package, was signed into law last week. The $1.9 trillion legislation is one of the most progressive bills signed in decades. 

The significance of this bill in the fight against the pandemic and helping uplift those suffering in crushing poverty is impossible to deny. However, President Biden’s relief package is not as progressive as promised. 

Within the Senate, the bill was needlessly curtailed. The primary actors responsible for this play of stinginess were moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.  

Moderate senators acting as impediments to passing progressive legislation is not new. In Obama’s first term, a moderate block of Democratic senators undermined and watered down the Affordable Care Act. 

The defense for this kind of behavior is always that they are moderates seeking some kind of compromise. Many are doing it to seem independent or something akin to that. However, political theatrics are a poor reason to hurt others, making them unable to receive benefits by removing vital sections from an aid bill.  

Using your power in the Senate to sit and say no to policies that help people is short-sighted. More people would vote for you and your party if you did more to visibly improve their lives. Yet, these moderates are the people making it harder to do just that. 

If a faction of moderate senators hadn’t forced the Obama administration to remove the public option and other more progressive elements from the Affordable Care Act, more people would have clearly benefited from that legislation. That could have meant the legislation wouldn’t be seen as a toxic mess.  

These senatorial sagas of the past and present show the way moderates act is not actually in line with the labeling. When someone is labeled as moderate, most assume that is because they have a position that is more in line with the broader American public. 

However, that isn’t true. In Congress, a moderate is someone whose political positions fit the middle of the House or the Senate, not broader public opinion. More often than not, these moderates have opinions that are not popular with the American public.  

That was shown clearly over the last few weeks when many Senate Democrats didn’t support increasing the minimum wage, an almost crazy position to take, since increasing the minimum wage is popular among a majority of Democratic and Republican voters. 

Winning elections is hard, and it is understandable that sometimes decisions have to be made that are unorthodox or unpopular in that pursuit. However, when you are in power you should be using your leverage to help people, not blunting others’ efforts to do just that. 

Now more than ever, strident progressive action is necessary. That cannot happen if moderate senators’ response to these efforts is no. 

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