What should we jettison from President Joe Biden’s proposed "Build Back Better" plan?
Democrats, who want a lot, have to negotiate with Republicans, who want almost nothing, as well as with putative Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, who want something in between.
This is challenging. Polls indicate that most Americans want and need most of what is in the plan. Even in West Virginia, the state that Joe Manchin represents.
A recent Data for Progress poll of likely West Virginia voters found that they "Strongly support" or "Somewhat support" the plan at rates of 60% (clean energy investments) up to 86% (investments in long-term care).
But there’s the cost. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ starting point was $6 trillion. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks says that $4 trillion is the right number. Negotiations began at $3.5 trillion. Sen. Manchin prefers $1.5 trillion.
Something has to give. What would you throw overboard?
If you’re a senior, you might be reluctant to ditch provisions that make it possible to obtain the hearing aid that you cannot afford. If you’re struggling to raise children in a culture that increasingly requires two incomes, you’ll hate to see the child tax credit discarded.
Everyone should be concerned about sacrificing the clean energy/climate change provisions. They are already little enough, and if we ditch them, it’s probably game over for the climate.
In short, various groups — seniors, children, parents and, in the case of climate change, everyone — could benefit enormously from Biden’s "Build Back Better" plan.
But not community college students. Last week community college tuition subsidies were axed from the plan, largely because of objections from Sen. Manchin.
This is unfortunate. Our society is healthier when more people are educated; community colleges provide educational opportunities for segments of our society previously underserved; and community colleges offer practical programs that prepare students quickly for jobs that are critical to the well-being of our society.
The societal benefits are compelling, but what about the benefits to the students themselves?
My understanding of community college students is based on the 7,500 who passed through my writing classes during three decades of teaching at a large community college in south Texas.
As a rule, my students were older; their average age was 27. They were more experienced. Some had been in the military, many had worked in other jobs before college and many had families. Some were kids, just getting started; many had a solid goal to which they were already deeply committed.
Nearly all of them had jobs, full time or part time. Many did not have outside financial support. And many struggled to pay the lower tuitions that most community colleges offer, as well as their living expenses.
And if they came to my classes tired, it was more likely because they had sat up with a sick child or worked a late shift at a convenience store than that they had attended an all-night kegger before a football game.
But it’s hard to characterize 7,500 students. Maybe an anecdote will serve:
A young Hispanic woman was interested enough in my class that she always sat in the middle of the front row. She tried to participate, but she was tired. In fact, she kept falling asleep.
I didn’t take it personally, and I never chastised her for her drowsiness. I could tell she was struggling enough without a lecture from a well-paid college professor.
But one day after class she lost control of her car on her way home and was killed. I don’t know why this happened. I suspect she fell asleep. If she was typical of many of my students, I suspect she was just tired from working, from studying and from trying to scrape together enough money to survive and go to school at the same time.
Too bad our society is too stingy to say to such students, "Look, you put the work, the energy, the commitment and the time into getting a degree, and we’ll help you out with the tuition."
This would be good for everyone. Even West Virginians.