The President saw himself facing the challenges Franklin Roosevelt faced.
By Jamelle Bouie | The New York Times
Last year, as he made his way to victory in the Democratic President’s primary election, Joe Biden told CNN that the pandemic was “frankly, possibly the greatest challenge in modern history.”
“I think it may not be a dwarf, but eclipse what FDR is expecting,” he added.
Biden again referred to Franklin Roosevelt in an interview with Evan Osnos of The New Yorker. “I’m kind of in the position FDR was in,” he said.
And a week before the election, Biden delivered a speech at Roosevelt’s White Winter House in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he promised to “overcome a devastating virus” and “cure a suffering world.”
In other words, Biden telegraphed his FDR-sized ambitions year-round. And his government’s first major bill is indeed an FDR bill.
In addition to hundreds of billions of dollars in direct payments to most American families, the American bailout – which was not passed in either the House or Senate without a single Republican vote – extends federal unemployment benefits through September 6, earning the first $ 10,200 of which benefits are not taxable for households with an income of less than $ 150,000 per year. It includes $ 7.25 billion in additional small business loans, a $ 25 billion restaurant fund, and more than $ 50 billion in transportation, including $ 50 billion in transit. It offers $ 25 billion in emergency letting and housing assistance to keep Americans in their homes and on the streets. There are also billions of dollars in personal protective equipment funding and COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
If Biden were to just sign a bill to help the public and end the pandemic, it would be a formidable feat, if not an FDR size. There is more to the package than just relief, however. There are also hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on major social safety net reforms.
At the top of the list is a significant, albeit temporary, increase in the child tax credit. Under current law, most families receive a tax credit of up to $ 2,000 per child under the age of 17. If the value of the credit is greater than what the family pays in taxes, they may receive part of the credit in cash.
The bill scraps this in favor of a de facto basic income for children. Instead of $ 2,000 in credit, parents receive annual payments of up to $ 3,600 for children 5 and under and up to $ 3,000 for children 6-17 years of age. Families without taxable income can continue to receive the full benefit. All families except the highest income families receive something from the government.
This change alone would reduce child poverty by an estimated 40%. But this change is not alone. The US bailout also triples the value of the tax credit for low-income workers with no children, gives more than 17 million Americans a benefit of around $ 1,500, and establishes a tax bill that currently penalizes childless workers for low-wage jobs.
Biden’s relief plan also provides for a major expansion of the Affordable Care Act in the form of larger subsidies for Americans who purchase health insurance in the statutory marketplaces. This would reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States by more than 4 million, according to an estimate by the Urban Institute.
The list of new directives continues. The American rescue plan includes money to expand grocery stamps, bolster state welfare programs, and increase federal support for childcare and dependents. Taken together, the bill is expected to reduce overall poverty by more than a third and child poverty by more than half. It is, without exaggeration, the most important poverty reduction law since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, which is itself the signature program of a man who has tried to mimic FDR.
In fact, I’d say the American bailout is cheap compared to the FDR’s first 100-day signature laws in that its price of $ 1.9 trillion is compared to the mere $ 10 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars) that Congress in the earliest period of the year dwarfs New Business. The challenge is very different – a global economic crisis and the associated unemployment and unrest over a health crisis and its economic impact – but the ambitions are of similar magnitude.
Indeed, the story of this bill could be the story of Biden’s opposition to austerity for much of the past decade, as well as the anti-aid paradigm he helped shape when he was Senator in 1988 before “Welfare Mothers Driving Luxury Cars “And voted in 1996 to make the so-called welfare reform a reality.
The American rescue plan is just a start. Since the administration has been constrained by the budgetary vote process, many of its provisions need to be made permanent. That said, there is still a lot of work left for the Biden government and the democratic majorities that currently exist in Congress. Much of it depends on whether the Senate will reform itself to allow a majority.
Even so, we can and should recognize that, as Biden once said of Obamacare, this bill is a very big deal for the country. And we can at least be a little amazed at the course of his political career as this accomplished, centrist and proud bipartisan dealmaker begins to move in somewhat unexpected directions.
Jamelle Bouie is an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times.