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Congressional Democrats are primed to pass the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package aimed at helping the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill includes a massive infusion of funding to address the direct impacts of the pandemic, including a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, money for schools and childcare centers, housing assistance and support for vaccination programs nationwide. It also expands existing tax credits to put more money directly into the pockets of workers and people with children.
No Republicans in either legislative chamber backed the plan, forcing Democrats to negotiate among themselves to advance the bill in the 50-50 Senate. Enhanced unemployment payments were reduced from $400 to $300 a week, and the income thresholds for those who will receive stimulus checks were lowered slightly. A measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 was abandoned due to disagreement over whether it qualified under the complex rules that allow certain budget-related legislation to avoid the Senate filibuster.
Why there’s debate
Supporters of the stimulus package say its massive price tag is necessary to address the scale of the challenge facing the U.S. economy. Funding to speed up vaccinations, reopen schools and prop up state budgets will help bring the pandemic to an end and relieve the most immediate burdens facing American families, they argue. The bulk of financial support in the bill — whether it’s direct payments, unemployment insurance or tax credits — will go to those who need it the most. Over the long term, policies like the enhanced child tax credit could have a transformative impact on poverty in the U.S. if they’re made permanent, some economists say.
Many conservatives, however, argue that the package is far too large. They argue that pumping trillions of dollars into the economy, much of it spent on measures that aren’t directly related to the pandemic, risks causing inflation and expanding the national debt to unsustainable levels. Others say recent trends show that the economy is on its way to recovery on its own and that stimulus spending isn’t needed at all.
The bill also has critics on the left, who are disappointed in the compromises that were made to gain the support of moderate Democrats. Critics of the compromises say reductions in the size of unemployment payments and limits on who receives stimulus checks may seem like minor changes, but they could make a major difference to struggling Americans. The most pointed criticism has been aimed at the failure to include a minimum wage increase to $15, a provision supporters say is desperately needed to fight poverty.
The American Rescue Plan will help millions of struggling Americans
“While the stimulus bill isn’t perfect and certainly could have been more generous … it’s going to get meaningful assistance to a lot of people. The U.S. is still some 10 million jobs short of where it was pre-pandemic, and expanded and extended unemployment benefits will be there to support workers as those jobs begin to return.” — Emily Stewart, Vox
Most important, the bill includes funds needed to end the pandemic for good
“There's the coronavirus funding itself, which is huge. Vaccinations are already above 2 million a day. Add in tens of billions for distribution, and $50 billion for a national testing infrastructure, and we could really beat this thing.” — New York Times columnist Ezra Klein
The bill will dramatically lower poverty rates in the U.S.
“This legislative package likely represents the most effective set of policies for reducing child poverty ever in one bill, especially among Black and Latinx children. The Biden administration is seeing this more like a wartime mobilization. They’ll deal with any downside risks later on.” — Poverty and inequality researcher Indivar Dutta-Gupta, to Washington Post
It’s better to spend too much than too little
“We can wring our hands at the idea that someone, somewhere, might get a little too much stimulus and deny many people the money they need, or … we can learn from a past when we did far too little and suffered for it.” — Sam Thielman, NBC News
The rescue package will set millions of poor children on a path to future success
“The child tax credit and these other provisions could lift nearly half of all U.S. children out of poverty. What a gift to the next generation after this long, painful, devastating pandemic. … The American Rescue Plan has smart and effective policies that will give our children what they need not just to survive, but thrive.” — Karen Dolan and Uma Nagarajan-Swenson, MarketWatch
Biden should be commended for not shrinking the size of the bill to satisfy the GOP
“The president doesn't seem to be holding out much hope for Republicans to change in the short term. Instead, Biden is making his own decisions, shaping his own agenda, and counting on his own party to move policies forward rather than waiting for Republicans to help him along.” — Julian Zelizer, CNN
Critics on the left ignore the many major progressive wins in the bill
“A lot of progressive and socialist organizers, staffers, and intellectuals, along with trade unions, Black churches, and other working-class organizations helped bring us to a point where *Joe Biden* is going to deliver the largest direct increase in worker purchasing power in U.S. history. … To look at that and decry Democrats as indistinguishable from Republicans is both mendacious and more conducive to advancing nihilism than progressive change.” — New York Magazine writer Eric Levitz
The bill is overstuffed with unnecessary liberal policies
“What’s especially strange about the Biden plan is that it isn’t even focused on the crisis at hand. As we noted in a previous editorial, just about 1% of the spending bill is going toward the vaccination effort, and only 5% is directly related to fighting the pandemic. Far more is being spent on long-standing liberal priorities, such as rewarding teachers unions and bailing out pension funds.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner
A smaller package targeted at ending the pandemic would be more responsible
“The pandemic is not yet over, and the economy remains fragile. Legislation that accelerated vaccinations and positioned businesses to reopen as quickly as possible would be welcome. The Biden stimulus is not that.” — Editorial, National Review
The economy is on the path to recovery on its own
“Democrats also want to pass this quickly so they can pivot and take credit for the inevitable economic boom that would happen anyway this year as the pandemic eases even if Congress does nothing. … This would be the most ill-timed ‘stimulus’ bill in history, except it’s really income redistribution and has very little that’s stimulating in it.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal
Too much stimulus spending could destabilize the economy
“Democrats are closing their eyes and throwing the dice. Congress is passing President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill with shockingly little information about whether the U.S. economy can safely absorb it.” — Michael R. Strain, Bloomberg
This is a stimulus package built for last year’s economy
“Steering by looking in the rearview mirror is a bad approach. Congress should recognize that the worst of the crisis is behind us and tailor the package to take account of the improvements that are on the horizon.” — Editorial, Chicago Tribune
Democrats missed their chance to help workers by abandoning the minimum wage hike
“Raising the minimum wage is best understood as the ground floor of welfare policy. In fact, it’s the basement — a high aspiration for those whose expectations are subterranean. And this week, our lawmakers couldn’t manage it.” — Osita Nwanevu, New Republic
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