On Covid Relief, Democrats Deserve a Victory Lap

A giant aid package is what the country badly needed and what voters wanted.

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  • March 10, 2021
On Covid Relief, Democrats Deserve a Victory Lap 1
Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Biden made it clear that he wanted to move fast and go big to deliver emergency aid to a nation reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, he will realize this goal with the signing of the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping, $1.9 trillion aid package aimed at rescuing the nation from its pandemic slump.

This is an early and impressive political win for Mr. Biden: He pushed for a $1.9 trillion deal, and he got an approximately $1.9 trillion deal that largely follows the contours he proposed. Better still, the bill passed and will be signed before the expiration of the current enhanced unemployment aid on Sunday.

Far more important, this is a big win for the American public — especially those of modest economic means. The legislation has the potential to cut poverty by a third and reduce child poverty by more than half, according to an analysis by Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. Black and Hispanic Americans are expected to see the largest benefit. It is being characterized by fans and critics as among the most expansive and progressive legislative achievements in decades.

The package is ambitious. Directly tackling the pressing public health challenges, it provides billions for coronavirus tracing, testing and vaccination efforts.

It also includes another round of cash relief: People earning up to $75,000 a year will receive $1,400, plus an additional $1,400 for every dependent they claim on their taxes. Enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 will extend through Labor Day. The earned-income tax credit will be expanded. There is money for child care facilities, schools, transit systems and restaurants. There is rental and mortgage assistance, debt relief for minority farmers and funding for small-business loans.

One of the plan’s most notable measures is an expansion of the child tax credit. Parents up to a certain income level will receive $3,600 for each child younger than 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17. The credit is structured so that even those who don’t pay income taxes can receive the benefit as a cash refund. The program is set to expire after one year, but supporters hope it will prove popular enough that it can be made permanent, effectively establishing a guaranteed base income for parents.

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The new law also provides for a two-year expansion of subsidies for purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which fulfills another of Mr. Biden’s key campaign promises. The list goes on and on.

Not everyone is a fan of the plan. Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for it despite its broad public support. Republicans have denounced it as too expensive and too unfocused. They also complain that Democrats shut them out of the legislative process — that, for all of his big talk about bipartisanship, Mr. Biden barreled ahead with only the support of his own congressional team.

The legislating was messy, as these things tend to be, with clashes both within and between the parties. Moderate Democrats demanded concessions from progressives, and Republicans sought to make the entire process as protracted and painful as possible.

Senator Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican, demanded that the 628-page bill be read aloud on the floor. Senate Republicans en masse turned the consideration of amendments into a marathon exercise in political theater that went straight through Friday night and into midday Saturday. As the bill made its final pass through the House on Wednesday morning, Republicans there indulged in even more foot-dragging. So much for cross-party comity.

The Biden administration is betting that most Americans care less — if at all — about process than about product.

It’s not a perfect bill. There will be bloat and inefficiencies. But the president’s unshakable position — backed by recent history — was that it was better to go too big than too small. No one on his team wanted to repeat the mistakes of the 2009 economic stimulus, now widely seen as having been too meager.

Mr. Biden learned another lesson from 2009: It is not enough to give Americans a win. You need to trumpet that win from the rooftops. So he is embarking on a combination victory tour and marketing blitz, aimed at driving home how the recovery plan will improve individuals’ lives — and the nation as a whole. He has scheduled a prime-time address, the first of his presidency, for Thursday evening. Soon, he will be hitting the road to sell the plan, as will the first lady and the vice president, among others. Friendly super PACs are planning related PR campaigns, and Mr. Biden has urged congressional Democrats to “continue to speak up and speak out” about it.

Big legislative wins are rare. Democrats have earned a victory lap for doing just what voters sent them to Washington to do.

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