U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

October 16, 2021

We Need to Get This Done 

October 16, 2021

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

I believe in the power of government to have a positive effect on people’s lives.

Government is not the answer to every problem facing our communities, nor should it be, but even our Founding Fathers saw a broad role for government.

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Currently, as the Senate and House work to fill in the details of the Build Back Better budget, the public debate has strayed into whether we should be big and bold in the policies and programs we fund. Alternatives vary from trimming the total number of programs included or trimming back the duration or size of the programs included, but keep a broad scope.

As a recap, Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders opened with a proposal that hit about $6 trillion over 10 years. Many felt that number seemed high. Of course, many of those critics had no problem voting for policies, including unpaid tax cuts that mostly benefitted the wealthy and big corporations that added $7.8 trillion to our national debt under President Trump. But that is a topic for a different email.

The overall budget proposal considered by the House and Senate was trimmed back to about $3.5 trillion, including offsets, which is legislative language for saying it is paid for and does not add to the debt or deficit. Think of it the difference between paying cash for an item or putting it on the national credit card. Democrats are prepared to put the cash behind these investments and pass the benefits, not the bill, to future generations.

The final package is still being negotiated, but certainly will be full of historic investments that “promote the general welfare” by allowing our economy to work better for all Americans and make it more equitable by investing in underserved communities.

While the process of developing the budget dominates much of the recent conversation, it is worth mentioning how refreshing it is that we are having substantive discussions about reduced costs for child care and universal Pre-K, dental care for seniors, as well as affordable housing, transportation, water affordability, conservation, climate policies, and resiliency. There is little debate among Democrats as to whether most of these projects are worthwhile, only whether or not they can fit in this package or the next.

We also cannot lose focus that whatever we do will be life changing for millions. Take the expanded Child Tax Credit, as an example. Yesterday, October 15, the families of more than 1.1 million children in low- and middle-income families across Maryland received their latest Child Tax Credit advance payment. It will make a small but noticeable dent in the average $25,156 per year that it takes to raise a child in Maryland.  

Nationwide, these extra funds have reduced the number of children living in poverty by half. But the tax credit expansion established by the American Rescue Plan was only authorized for one year. Congress cannot abandon these families just as they begin to work their way into a more stable financial state.

In many respects, the current debate mirrors conversations we had in 2009 and 2010 about health care and the Affordable Care Act. At the time, there was trepidation at the size of the proposal. We knew it was transformational, but some questioned whether it was too big. We came together though, and changed our health care system in a way that literally has saved lives.

These days, margins are tighter in the Senate and the House. To finalize this budget, we will need to make difficult choices and not everyone will be happy with every detail. As a former Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, I fully understand that, as Otto Bismarck famously noted, “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable.” The reality is that we need to make those choices and get this done sooner rather than later, so small businesses, like families, can plan out their budgets and cash-flow. Local communities need to determine how many more police they can hire or zero-emission school busses they can afford. Farmers need to determine future crops and conservation goals.

For those families and small businesses, farmers and so many others, how and when Congress invests taxpayer dollars makes a difference in their future. These programs represent real people and we cannot let them down by allowing the entire package to collapse because we forgot how to negotiate and find compromise.

I believe we need to be bold, but I also believe we must do our job and constantly work to “form a more perfect union.”

I look forward to reviewing the details of the final Build Back Better budget reconciliation package and then voting it into law. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our nation and especially working families in Maryland and across the country. We need to get this done.

Thank you. Stay safe.


Ben Cardin