WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden wants America to know that he is in government and that he is here to help.
This sentiment became a well-worn punch line under Ronald Reagan and shaped the politics of both parties for four decades. Democrat Bill Clinton declared the era of great government over in the 1990s, Barack Obama largely kept his party in the same vein, and Republican Donald Trump campaigned on the assumption that Washington was full of morons, outmatched. by the Chinese and others.
But Biden is now staking his presidency on the idea that the government can use its $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan not only to stop a pandemic and a jobs crisis, but also to propel the country towards forward to tackle the deep issues of poverty, inequality and more.
“When I was elected I said we were going to get the government out of the fight against Twitter and get back to work for the American people,” Biden said after the massive bill was passed in the Senate on Saturday. “To show the American people that their government can work for them.”
Taken together, the 628-page bill’s provisions constitute one of the most significant improvements to the social safety net in decades, pushing the country into uncharted territory.
In addition to stopping the pandemic and reviving hiring, the bailout money – awaiting final approval in the House – is supposed to start correcting income inequalities, halving child poverty, feed the hungry, save pensions, support public transport, let schools reopen with confidence. and help repair state and local government finances. And Biden is betting the government can do it all at the speed of a nation mobilizing for war without touching the inflation rate.
“People have lost faith that the government can do them good,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who spoke to Biden daily when the bill was introduced in the Senate on Last weekend. Today, as vaccines become more available and other changes occur, “people are going to see that the government is actually improving their lives – that’s how Americans thought about it, and we have moved away from it. . “
Republicans say Americans have many reasons to be skeptical, calling the US bailout excessive and wasteful. They warn that the radical package will raise the national debt to precarious new heights after $ 4 trillion in aid has already been provided.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is speaking out against the package as missing the moment – too big at a time when the virus is showing signs of slowing and the economy is about to “roar.”
Instead of working through the aisle towards unity, as Biden promised, McConnell says Democrats are “pushing through what they call ‘the most progressive national legislation in a generation,'” citing the leader of White House cabinet.
“They have made it very clear that they intend to exploit this crisis as ‘a great opportunity to restructure things around our vision,’” says McConnell. This is the first COVID bill that has not received any support from Republicans in the House or Senate.
Biden’s bet, more than others in modern politics and economics, is full of questions.
Can federal money push economic growth above 6% for the first time since Reagan in 1984? Will the 9.5 million lost jobs come back quickly? Is inflation going to skyrocket? Will the national debt scare voters in next year’s midterm elections? Biden has placed the greatest of markers on 20th century British economist John Maynard Keynes’ theories that government can boost a dormant economy to health.
Wide-ranging, Biden’s plan relies heavily on existing healthcare and tax credits, rather than new programs, but it expands that standard tariff in ambitious new ways designed to reach more people who are suffering. in unprecedented time.
“We’ve never done this before,” said Len Burman, professor of economics at Syracuse University, co-founder of the Tax Policy Center. year that would be amazing. This would save a lot of hardship and suffering. “
But Burman also has doubts about the design of Biden’s package because it distributes direct payments and other benefits to almost every household in the United States, rather than directing the money to the poor and to businesses and organizations. most affected by the pandemic and the resulting closures.
“It kind of reminded me of that idea when I was in graduate school of helicopter money – which was basically just dropping money in the air and seeing if that increased income,” he said. he declared. “The money could have been better targeted.”
Final passage of the bill is expected this week – before extended unemployment benefits end in mid-March. But celebrating Biden’s signing will only be the start. His administration will need to show that funds can be spent effectively and efficiently, helping those in need while giving the general public enough confidence to drive growth through hiring and spending.
Felicia Wong, CEO of the Liberal Roosevelt Institute, sees parallels with the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt instigated an unprecedented series of government interventions that realigned American policy. Wong said she is monitoring the process by which money from the COVID relief package is distributed.
“It will matter as much as the scale of the package because it will build confidence,” Wong said.
Republicans are prepared to portray spending as bloated and inefficient, just as they attacked the Obama-era revival law during the 2009 financial crisis.
At the same time, much of the aid is temporary and is expected to expire in about a year, leaving Congress to assess Biden’s approach ahead of the next election season.
Associated Press editor Kevin Freking contributed to this report.