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The Biden administration has issued a new two-month moratorium on evictions, covering much of the country, after facing public pressure from progressive lawmakers led by Congressmember Cori Bush of Missouri, who was once unhoused herself and slept on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest after the moratorium on evictions lapsed on July 31. The new moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will cover areas of the United States where there is “substantial” or “high” spread of the coronavirus. The belated renewal of the eviction moratorium shows that “people need to be willing to criticize this administration,” says Jacobin staff writer Branko Marcetic. “People want the administration to succeed, but treating them with kid gloves is not necessarily going to be the best way to get these kinds of progressive and just outcomes in policy.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
The Biden administration has issued a new two-month moratorium on evictions, covering much of the country, after facing massive public outcry from progressive lawmakers led by Congressmember Cori Bush. The new CDC moratorium will cover areas of the United States where there’s “substantial” or “high” spread of the coronavirus. A nationwide moratorium on evictions expired Saturday, after Democratic lawmakers failed to pass a bill to protect millions of people who could be forced from their homes.
On Friday night, Democratic Congressmember Cori Bush, who was once unhoused herself, began camping out with others on the steps of the Capitol in protest, staying until Tuesday’s announcement. In a tweet, Bush wrote, “On Friday night, I came to the Capitol with my chair. I refused to accept that Congress could leave for vacation while 11 million people faced eviction. For 5 days, we’ve been out here, demanding that our government acts to save lives. Today, our movement moved mountains.” During an interview on CNN, Bush responded to the temporary moratorium extension.
REP. CORI BUSH: I’m elated, and I’m overwhelmed, you know, because just the thought that so many people right now, millions of people, you know, will not be forced out on the streets.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmember Rashida Tlaib is calling on House Democrats to return recent contributions from real estate tycoon George Marcus, who recently donated $1 million to the House Majority PAC just weeks before Democratic lawmakers failed to extend the eviction moratorium.
For more, we’re joined by Branko Marcetic, staff writer at Jacobin magazine, where his latest piece is headlined “The Democrats’ Eviction Moratorium Failure Is Unforgivable.”
You wrote the piece before the announcement Tuesday. In a minute, we’ll talk to you about the infrastructure deal. But the significance of the now eviction moratorium that’s more targeted, but also the popular outcry, led by Cori Bush, once unhoused herself?
BRANKO MARCETIC: Yeah, I think it’s a really important lesson. Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure being put on the White House from congresspeople and the like. Pelosi and Maxine Waters, apparently, were calling the White House over the weekend, basically saying, “Hey, you need to do something about this.” So, there is an element of, you know, some of that kind of more congenial work going behind the scenes.
But I think it’s really important also that the failure to actually do anything about the eviction moratorium, which the deadline was known about for a month, at the very least — the Supreme Court basically said it would strike it down at the end of June. The failure to do anything about that caused such a big outcry and really fierce criticism among progressives and just ordinary people, that I think that was also the other thing that helped push the White House to ultimately — despite saying, “We don’t have the power to do anything, and, you know, we don’t want to risk a broader Supreme Court strikedown by issuing another moratorium order” — it pushed them to do it.
And I think that’s a really important lesson. We saw it also with the administration’s walk back on the refugee numbers. That announcement, when Biden said he was going to keep the refugee numbers basically at Trump’s level, an incredibly low level, the outcry forced him to backtrack. So, I think the lesson here is, people need to be willing to criticize this administration. People want the administration to succeed, but sort of treating them with kid gloves is not necessarily going to be the best way to get these kinds of progressive and just outcomes in policy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Branko, I wanted to ask you — the criticisms of the administration clearly were needed, but I’m wondering — there were billions of dollars allocated in the previous COVID-19 bills for rental assistance. And a large — most of this money has not yet been given out by the states. New York state has 160,000 people who have applied for rental assistance. And according to The New York Times, almost no one has gotten any money from a Democratic, supposedly liberal, state. What’s going on with the states giving out the money that’s already been apportioned to help tenants?
BRANKO MARCETIC: Well, look, I mean, real estate interests are powerful everywhere. It’s not just on a national level; it’s also at the state and local levels, perhaps even more so than at the national level.
I mean, the other thing is that this was really enabled by the way that this rental assistance was designed. It was designed to delegate to the states, which, you know, I mean, through history, through American history, one of the lessons is that when you delegate programs to states to design and implement, it doesn’t necessarily always mean that it’s going to be a failure or that it’s going to be delayed or have problems, but just by nature of the fact that state governments are not always controlled by progressive lawmakers, it does mean that you risk all these different states or localities putting in different rules and different requirements that end up making it a lot harder for people to get the money. And that’s basically what happened. The reason people aren’t getting it quickly enough, people are having trouble with being able to apply for these things, being able to fill out whatever they have to fill out.
You know, and you compare it to, say, the PPP support that was given to businesses by the Trump administration, that program was designed — it was a federal program. There was very minimal bureaucracy. It was meant to get money through the door as quickly as possible. And so, I think that’s a pretty key comparison there, where it shows you this idea: “Well, you know, if it’s business, well, then, money has to go out as quickly as possible. And you know what? If some people cheat the system, or people who are not worthy of this support end up trying to apply for it, then so be it,” whereas when it comes to renters, when it comes to ordinary working people, there’s more suspicion. And so, I think there’s that antiquated mindset. There’s still a long way to go to overcome it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to ask you, Branko, about a key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda, the bipartisan bill that’s the first phase of his infrastructure plan. This week, the Senate is working on amendments to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which calls for spending $555 billion in new money over five years on the country’s roads, bridges, water systems and broadband and the electric grid. But critics say the bill fails to urgently address the climate emergency. The Intercept reports it actually includes $25 billion in potential new subsidies for fossil fuels. The outcome of the bipartisan bill will set the stage for debate on Biden’s much larger $3.5 trillion package, which Republicans strongly oppose, but would require a simple majority for passage through reconciliation.
So, you wrote a piece, Branko Marcetic, in Jacobin magazine headlined “Biden’s Infrastructure Deal Is Terrible. Progressives in Congress Should Block It.” And you also are the author of the biography of Biden, Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden. But can you talk about the infrastructure bill — bills, as they stand now, and particularly the bipartisan one? What’s been stripped out of it?
BRANKO MARCETIC: As you say, a lot of the climate stuff. I mean, the bipartisan bill, by virtue of having to negotiate with the Republicans, who, of course, are climate deniers and, you know, are captured by corporate interests, including fossil fuels, of course, they do not want a whole host of climate measures in there that are going to compete with those industries or that will, you know, eventually phase them out. So, a lot of that stuff has been stripped down. You know, the clean energy standard, which was meant to be one of the cornerstones of transitioning the United States’ electricity grid away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy, that’s out of the bill. The spending that was initially put in the original proposal by Biden was to spend about $125 billion a year. That has gone out.
Though there’s still things in there. Don’t get me wrong. There’s, I think, about $66 billion for passenger rail. There’s investments in renewable energy and that kind of thing. So, it’s not nothing, but the numbers are substantially smaller than they were in the original proposal. And the issue there is, you know, overcoming climate change requires a mind-boggling transformation of not just the energy system, but really the way that we live our lives, the way that we structure society. It requires a really, really massive investment of money to do this. Some groups — say, the Roosevelt Institute, for instance — they estimate that you need about $1 trillion a year for the next 10 years, at the very least, to be able to do this. You know, you’ve also got people who talk about the climate crisis and overcoming it as a kind of World War II-style effort. Well, in 1945, the amount of — the percentage of GDP that was spent for the war effort was about 37.5%. That original climate infrastructure bill was going to spend 1% of GDP per year. So, that’s even — that’s the one that was more ambitious. This one is far, far, far less than that.
So I think the climate issue is probably the biggest thing that’s not in there, but you’ve also got a whole host of things that are in the $3.5 trillion one that the Senate is trying to pass that are not in this bipartisan bill, because, I guess, they were not considered by Republicans or some of the more conservative Democrats who are negotiating this bipartisan bill as infrastructure. So, that includes universal pre-K. That includes free community college and, you know, other things like that, things that are not physical infrastructure — they’re not bridges and roads — but they are key to how the economy functions. You need educated workers to be able to have a good-functioning economy. You need people’s kids to be take care of, to have somewhere to go, so that people can go to work and not have to think about what they’re going to do in terms of child care.
So, all of those things are missing from the bipartisan bill. So, you know, if that is the only thing that gets passed, given the slim majorities, given the — what’s on the horizon in 2022, it’s going to be very difficult for Democrats to actually hold the House and the Senate — if this doesn’t get passed, it will be looked at as a massive missed opportunity that we will really regret, I think, in years to come.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But then, in terms of being able to accomplish both the bigger bill through budget reconciliation and this infrastructure package, how do you foresee that actually happening? And what is the role of progressives in that situation? For instance, if the progressives do try to block infrastructure, do you think they will have sufficient leverage to get what they want in the reconciliation bill?
BRANKO MARCETIC: Well, yeah, it’s tricky. So, Biden has said that they’re going to pass both bills in tandem. The Senate leadership and other Democratic leadership, they’ve said as much, as well. At the moment, the idea is to pass first the bipartisan bill in the Senate, send it to the House, and then, after that, just before the Senate goes on recess, to pass, basically, a framework for the bigger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which also will then go to the House.
Now, the issue is: Can progressives trust that if they vote for this bipartisan bill, that they won’t have the rug pulled out under them either by the Biden administration, which has already dropped a number of pretty significant campaign promises, including the public option, which never gets talked about anymore, and by conservative lawmakers, people like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who has already said, “$3.5 trillion, that’s way too much money for me. I’m not going to support that”? Can they trust that? I would say they cannot.
And so, the question here is: Are progressives — you know, there’s a very slim majority in the House that the Democrats have, because of the election loss in the House during 2020, which, on the one hand, was bad for Democrats, but can be very good for — you know, given the fact that there is a pretty substantial number of socialist and progressive lawmakers now in there, who can serve a role like the tea party served for the Republicans, you know, back during the Obama years, where they can use their numbers to say, “Hey, well, if you’re not going to give us what we’ve asked for, then we’re going to vote this down. We’re going to vote down your bipartisan infrastructure package, and therefore no one gets anything.” They have said as much. You know, AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she has said that she will not be voting for the bipartisan package unless the reconciliation bill also goes through. Bernie Sanders in the Senate, he has said the same thing, essentially.
The question is: What kind of guarantee are they going to get that they are not going to have that rug pulled out under them? And I think a verbal agreement or a verbal assurance is not enough. So, yeah, I would say, look, if the cost of passing the reconciliation bill is having to pass this bipartisan bill, as well, that seems like an acceptable price. But if that reconciliation bill looks like it’s actually going to get blocked, then progressives need to, you know, use their numbers and use their leverage and wield power that they really have in his Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Branko Marcetic, we want to thank you for being with us, staff writer at Jacobin magazine. We’ll link to your latest piece, “Biden’s Infrastructure Deal Is Terrible. Progressives in Congress Should Block It.”