Biden’s big pitch for his own New Deal
President Biden marked his first 100 days in office this week by unveiling the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, the latest in a $6 trillion package of bills that seek to reshape the U.S. economy and the role of the federal government. In a speech to Congress scheduled to take place after The Week went to press, Biden was to outline and promote the provisions of the bill, which would expand access to education and child care and pay for it by boosting taxes on the wealthy. The bill would provide two free years of community college, universal pre-K classes, and $85 billion in need-based Pell Grants for college tuition. It would earmark billions for child-care subsidies, extend child tax credits for most parents, and create a federal family and medical leave program. Biden proposes to fund it by raising the capital-gains tax rate from 20 to 39.6 percent and the top marginal income tax rate for high earners from 37 to 39.6 percent. He also wants to raise $700 billion over a decade by increasing the IRS budget by $80 billion to root out tax evaders.
The sweeping bill comes on the heels of two massive spending packages that together make up the most progressive agenda since Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the New Deal nine decades ago. The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill passed in March provided billions for poverty-reduction measures, direct stimulus payments to most Americans, and state and local relief. Last month Biden unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that would allocate billions for rebuilding roads, bridges, and railways and would also extend broadband across rural America, build affordable housing, and provide billions for home care for the elderly and the disabled. “Now—after just 100 days—I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” said Biden in an excerpt from his prepared speech. “We have acted to restore the people’s faith in our democracy to deliver.”
Biden’s new package got an immediate thumbs-down from Republicans. “President Biden ran as a moderate,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, “but I’m hard-pressed to think of anything at all that he’s done so far that would indicate some degree of moderation.”
What the editorials said
Biden is selling a “radical agenda,” said The Wall Street Journal, and he can thank the pandemic and Donald Trump for giving him an opening. He’s benefited from being “the calm after the four-year Trump storm” and from the “inevitable post-pandemic” economic lift. Instead of using that leverage to “unify the country” as he promised, he’s governing like Bernie Sanders and pushing “a spending blowout unseen since the 1960s.”
Yes, Biden abandoned his pledge to build bipartisan consensus, said the Newark Star-Ledger. But the reality is “he has little choice.” Republicans are “playing the same game they played with President Obama”—trying to deny him any successes even on measures with broad public support, like infrastructure spending, pandemic relief, and gun safety. Biden was elected to get things done, “and if that means doing it without GOP support, then so be it.”
What the columnists said
Biden is “poised to match FDR’s stunning debut in office,” said Jonathan Alter in The New York Times. Taking office amid a devastating pandemic, he faced the same task Roosevelt did during the Depression: “restore faith that the long-distrusted federal government can deliver rapid, tangible achievements.” With the $1.9 trillion relief bill and a vaccination campaign that’s delivered more than 200 million shots in 100 days, Biden has proved himself “the first president since Lyndon Johnson who can rightly be called FDR’s heir.”
“Biden’s drive to make himself the next FDR is monumentally arrogant,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. Having ridden into office on “the unpopularity of his predecessor” and a “once-in-100-years pandemic,” the promised uniter now claims a mandate to “change America as rapidly and irreversibly as possible.” It’s “not confidence that drives Biden’s government expansion,” said Matthew Continetti in CommentaryMagazine.com. “It’s dread.” With just a 218-212 Democratic majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate, Biden knows he may have just two years to hand out trillions in subsidies, entitlements, and other goodies before Republicans regain one or both chambers. He’s trying to “go for broke now”—“even if it means future generations will have to clean up the mess.”
Biden’s first 100 days have already “reshaped America,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. His pandemic relief package “could cut child poverty by more than half,” has expanded Obamacare, and has the economy vigorously rebounding. To the frustration of Republicans, Uncle Joe’s “vanilla-ice-cream bromides” and refusal to engage in “splashy public fights” have enabled him to avoid stirring up the angry conservative backlash Bill Clinton and Obama did, forcing them to settle for culture-war kerfuffles over Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. For the relentless Biden, “the tedium is the message.”
Biden’s “remarkable” pitch for $4 trillion in new spending is unlikely to succeed, said Ben White and Aubree Eliza Weaver in Politico.com. After Congress has “already approved over $5 trillion” in pandemic spending over the past year, getting two massive new packages past “a vanishingly small margin in the Senate is pretty much impossible.” Democratic moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin are unlikely to support it, and “corporate America is prepared to use every bit of leverage it has” to block the proposed tax hikes. Biden “faces a choice,” said William Galston in The Wall Street Journal. Does he try to push the bills through on a partisan vote, “or will he accept the compromises needed to bring some Republicans on board?” Giving any ground “would anger many on his left flank.” Compromise “is still possible,” but both Biden and Republican moderates must “decide whether they are prepared to take heat from their own ranks to pursue it.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Ben Crump Law, Getty, AP ■