Prepping for Disappointment

Well, the incoming leaders of the House and Senate are pouring buckets of cold water on any hopes of a progressive agenda in the next two years.

In some ways, this makes perfect sense. In others, it’s a continuation of the squishy-soft stylings of the outgoing leadership. And that’s disappointing for anyone who was looking forward to the possibility of change.

My former colleagues Xander Landen and Kit Norton have posted a legislative preview, and it’s chock full of Business As Usual — the kind of Democratic strategerizing that’s helped Phil Scott remain governor. Or, shall we say, done little to nothing to draw a clear contrast between Scott and the Dems.

Now, these are extraordinary times. And I have no quarrel with the idea that coronavirus will be first and foremost on the agenda until we’ve vaccinated our way back to normality. The budget alone could occupy the available time between now and adjournment.

So yeah, when Speaker-In-Waiting Jill Krowinski says her top priority is “to bring people together and create a plan of action to beat the virus and it needs to be a recovery plan that leaves no one behind,” I completely agree. Save for the grammatical tic.

But 2022 ought to be a completely different story.

The Democrats continue to hawk paid family leave as a core issue… but Balint made it clear that they won’t even try in the next two years. “It’s a hard sell for me and my chamber to take another run at this when we know the governor is not supportive,” she said.

In a practical sense, that may be true — especially with a slightly more conservative House this biennium. But legislating isn’t entirely about making law. It’s also about making statements and delivering on your promises.

I mean, 90 percent of what Congress does is essentially posturing. Why can’t we have just a little bit of that? Why not pass bills you believe in, regardless of what the governor might do? Like, for instance, the U.S. House approving a $3 trillion Covid relief bill last May even though they knew the Republican Senate would never take it up?

Why not force the governor to veto paid leave — twice — before the next campaign? At least they would draw a contrast between themselves and the governor, and they’d have a clear message next time around: We want to do A, B, and C, and Phil Scott is the only thing standing in our way.

Instead, they’re starting out from a position of self-imposed weakness.

Things aren’t much better on climate change. Leadership seems content with passing the Global Warming Solutions Act over Scott’s veto. Which is an accomplishment, but… GWSA doesn’t actually do anything to reduce our carbon footprint. It only sets the stage for action by imposing deadlines and penalties. The only thing that Balint and Krowinski are promising to do is resist Scott’s calls for weakening GWSA. And that’s not enough. Not if you’re serious about climate change as the crisis of our time.

And there’s absolutely nothing in the article about policing reform, racial justice, or the state’s troubled prison system. That doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be any action, but it certainly means that it’s not front and center in legislative minds. That “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on State Street is getting badly worn which, as I’ve noted before, seems like a perfect metaphor for white folks’ ability to forget about the issue as soon as the streets aren’t full of protest.

The only non-Covid issue that seems ripe for advancement is broadband. The lack of access for huge swaths of Vermont came to the forefront when the pandemic forced the closure of schools and many workplaces. However, any real action will depend entirely on the Biden administration’s ability to get more pandemic assistance through Congress. We’d better be hoping for Democratic wins in the Georgia runoff elections.

It could be worse. Republicans are, if anything, even more devoid of actual plans. House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy’s big idea for post-pandemic recovery is the Republicans’ favorite bugbear — deregulation. Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, in an interview with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb, offered deregulation as his preferred solution to the child care crisis.

At least Brock supports federal aid to states and cities, without which Vermont will be up shit’s creek without a paddle. The governor has repeatedly made it clear that the states need a federal bailout.

Which puts him at odds with, ahem, the leader of his own party. In her latest weekly newsletter, VTGOP chair Deb Billado declared her opposition to federal aid for states and cities, parroting national Republicans’ argument that the states are failing because of prior fiscal mismanagement, not the devastating economic impact of the pandemic — and President Trump’s abject failure to manage it.

So yeah, things could be worse. But that’s a low bar, and people who voted Democratic should rightly have higher expectations of their lawmakers and leadership.

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