OPINION: What the heck is in the $3.5 trillion bill Democrats are fighting over?

A CBS News poll of American adults conducted last week found 90% of Americans have no idea what is in the $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” bill that Democrats are wrangling over right now. I actually think the number is closer to 99%.

The “BBB” is the gigantic social services package that Democrats have agreed to pass through reconciliation, meaning it can go through both the House and Senate with a simple majority vote.

It’s getting significantly trimmed back to accommodate moderates demands to cut the cost of the package.

It’s also not to be confused with the “BIF,” or the Bipartisan Infrastructure roads-and-bridges legislation that passed the Senate with 69 votes in August. That is stuck in House purgatory until Democratic moderates and liberals in the Capitol can get a handshake deal on the overall size of the BBB.

While all of that wrangling is going on, it’s important for us average bears to at least know what they’re fighting for.

The first thing to know is that the Build Back Better plan will be massive, even if it’s cut to $1 or $2 trillion in spending, because of the breadth of the programs it is proposing and the scope of the transformational change embedded in those proposals.

Any one of the titles of the bill would be a heavy lift for most administrations.

Take the items targeting families as an example.

In the $3.5 trillion framework, President Joe Biden has proposed free universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds; 12 weeks of federally paid family and medical leave; no-cost child care low- income families and subsidies to middle-income families to pay no more than 7% of their income for daycare or babysitting.

It would also extend the short-term child tax credit, which passed in the American Rescue Plan, through 2024 or 2025. That means families would continue to get a $3,600 annual tax credit for each child under 6-years-old and $3,000 for dependents over six.

Under this scenario, a mom who has a baby next year would have 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, free-to-low cost child care to go back to work, free preschool for that child, and $3,600 per year in tax credits to pay for the remaining costs of having a child, which are numerous.

For Democrats, that’s the path to permanently ending child poverty. For Republicans, and even Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Democrat from West Virginia, it’s the start of an entitlement society.

Moving over to higher education, the proposal would pay for two years of free community college, increase Pell grants by $1,500, and subsidize tuition at universities serving minority students.

In the health care sector, Democrats say they’ll expand Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing.

One item would let Medicare negotiate with drug companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. That single proposal alone has tied Congress in knots for more than 20 years. Stuffed into the reconciliation bill, it hardly made a ripple.

The most expensive action on climate in the nation’s history is also folded in there. One item would create an infrastructure of hundreds of thousands of electric car charging stations, just as there are hundreds of thousands of gas stations, across the country.

Although the Biden administration describes the plan as “no-cost,” a better description is that it covers its costs with tax hikes for the wealthiest people and companies, along with an aggressive plan to reduce the famous “fraud, waste, and abuse” in the tax system.

With the 2022 election looming, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has taken on outsized influence for a freshman senator among the Democrats.

He has used that influence to push for an expansion of Medicaid coverage in the bill for the 12 states, including Georgia, that did not expand the program under the Affordable Care Act.

He’s also making a pitch to spend billions at HBCU’s to upgrade aging campuses and to add a loan forgiveness for small farmers, including thousands in Georgia, who struggled to cover their expenses during the pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has taken the lead on pushing to get tax credits to boost domestic manufacturing of solar components to eventually have the entire supply chain built on U.S. soil.

And he wants to expand public transit near low and middle-income housing.

It’s not all going to end up in the package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Monday night that Democrats need to start making “hard choices,” meaning it’s time to choose what goes in, what comes out, and what will have to wait for another day.

The proposal as it stands is so big that it’s almost as if every Democratic promise we heard during the entire 2020 campaign — from free community college to expanding Medicare to addressing climate change — has been sweetened and condensed into a single piece of must-pass legislation. And this is it.

But more than anything, Democrats promised competence and a governing majority with the judgment to know how to deploy their majority responsibility. After four years of chaos and mean tweets, it was an attractive alternative.

For as popular as the individual items in the bill are, if Democratic leaders can’t design a bill to pass Democratic priorities through a Democratic Congress, with the only bar to clear being the approval of their own members, voters may not give them Democratic majorities much longer.