With all the negative news lately, I’ve been thinking about where the nation would be but for the miraculous Senate wins in Georgia by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on January 5. Let’s see, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill would not have been signed in March, very few if any federal judges appointed by President Biden would be confirmed by now and it wouldn’t even make sense to talk about the president’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) Act with Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in charge of the Senate.
The coronavirus relief legislation provided billions of dollars to surge the vaccination program and control the pandemic, which no doubt saved thousands of lives and prevented the Delta variant from taking an even greater toll. It also provided around $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges, funded direct stimulus payments to middleclass and lower income families, boosted unemployment benefits and shored up state and local governments with $350 billion in support. That alone was quite an accomplishment.
It’s easy to get depressed about what’s going on in Congress right now, particularly with the battles between so-called centrist Democrats and progressives. Yet, my God, just think how we would be feeling if McConnell controlled the Senate.
Since we aren’t mired in that gloom – fortunately – I get the chance to delve a bit into the reconciliation (BBB) bill that will hopefully be put in final form by Democrats soon and write about some benefits it could provide for all Americans, now and in the future. That’s happy!
You don’t need piles of data and learned studies by Harvard professors to understand that children who are deprived of decent health care and education will likely grow up to become liabilities to society rather than assets; that’s just plain old common sense. Sure, some will overcome these adversities and become entrepreneurs, doctors and scientists but many will drift into crime and drug use or simply lack the training and stamina to contribute significantly to the information age economy. Better health care and support for education are key provisions of the president’s BBB agenda.
Biden and the Democrats wanted $3.5 trillion in their expanded infrastructure bill, which would be spent over a 10-year period. Many voters probably don’t realize, however, that U.S. defense spending will exceed $8 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is almost half a trillion dollars more than all other discretionary spending by the U.S. government.
I believe that if we were to put the same resources into building our infrastructure, physical and social, as we do to design and build the means to destroy things and kill people, the United States would be a much stronger economic superpower. Conversely, if we fail to make investments in critical infrastructure as proposed in the BBB Act, I am concerned that this nation, torn by division and dysfunction, will no longer be the dominant superpower in a decade or two.
Consequently, I’m not concerned if this important legislation is half the $3.5 trillion in spending that the president and many Democrats wanted so long as they get it done. Many of them believe whatever they pass will prove to be popular with the public and that they will be able to build on it later. I agree. So, rather than focusing on the cost, I’m more interested in what’s in the bill.
Preschool: All Democrats are supporting what I believe is a key provision, universal, high-quality, free, preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old children across the country, paid for entirely by the federal government.
Child tax credit: The child tax credit of $300 per child that was established in the coronavirus relief bill earlier this year will likely be extended for at least a year, perhaps with some modifications.
Paid family leave: Democrats wanted to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers since the U.S. is one of the few nations that doesn’t have some type of national paid leave. To cut the cost, the White House is now backing a four-week program for lower-income workers that would expire after several years.
Tax increases: Instead of raising income taxes on corporations and the wealthy, Democrats are considering a tax on unrealized capital gains for those with $1 billion in wealth or who earn more than $100 million for three consecutive years. This would be a tax on assets they hold, even if they don’t sell them.
There were numerous other provisions of the original $3.5 trillion bill that will be eliminated or significantly be cut back, including free community college, expanded child care for parents who work, enhanced Obamacare subsidies, housing aid, home care services for the elderly and disabled, expanded dental, vision and hearing benefits in Medicare, etc.
I know, today we can’t be sure what will be in the final bill. But here’s the thing. If the Democrats manage to pass even a scaled-back BBB Act as currently envisioned, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it will probably be the largest investment in America’s future that Congress has ever made in one fiscal year.
Some politicians and pundits accuse Biden of over promising and under delivering. Well, compare that to a McConnell controlled Senate that would promise very little and deliver nothing. I’ll take glass half full negotiations over an empty glass – that no one is even discussing – anytime.