Jan 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's COVID package also progressive wish list

Joe Biden is seen delivering a speech focused on his coronavirus relief program.

President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste — and President-elect Joe Biden, emboldened by Democratic Senate victories in Georgia, signaled in his speech Thursday night he has no intention of wasting this one.

Why it matters: The president-elect rolled out a $1.9 trillion package headlined for its coronavirus relief but including billions in spending for cybersecurity, transit, wages, health care and other progressive programs.

What they're saying: Trumpian economist Stephen Moore calls it "a $2 trillion wish list of social programs that the left has been trying to advance for 30 years."

  • He's correct in that, although Moore's wrong when he adds that "almost none of this has anything to do with the health emergency."

Public health is a centerpiece of the plan, with $160 billion earmarked for a broad range of programs, including coronavirus vaccination, testing, therapeutics, contact tracing, personal protective equipment and much more.

The overview: This bill is overwhelmingly about spending rather than taxes, although there are extensions to the child-care tax credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and some health-care related credits.

Notably, it includes no "pay-fors." Biden is not seeking to raise anybody's taxes to pay for this.

  • Wages, however, are in there: The proposal includes a federal $15 minimum wage, and abolishes the lower minimum wage for people earning tips. It also includes 14 weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave.
  • Schools and transit systems get $170 billion and $20 billion respectively, after being largely left out of President Trump's stimulus bills.
  • Spending on cyber-health is included, with $9 billion going toward beefing up the Cyber Security and Information Security Agency following the devastating Russian hack.
  • All told, the package is an implicit rebuke of the Trump administration and its otiose attitude toward pandemic response.

The big picture: The coronavirus pandemic has created a K-shaped economic recovery. This proposal attempts to target the Americans worst hit by the crisis, including $400 per week in unemployment benefits extended through September. Eviction and foreclosure moratoriums will also be extended that far.

  • Racial justice features prominently. Billions of dollars are earmarked for underserved populations, including health services on tribal lands.
  • Billions more will go toward helping long-term care workers, who have borne the brunt of the disease and who are disproportionately women of color.

The bottom line: This proposal is about more than topping off the $600 stimulus checks Americans have already received with $1,400 more. It represents an unabashedly progressive agenda, centered on a strong and growing federal government.

  • If Biden succeeds in getting it passed, there's a lot more where those ideas came from. A second part, which could be even bigger, will attempt to execute on his "Build Back Better" agenda of retooling the U.S. economy for an environmentally-sustainable future.
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