The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Isn’t it time, for heaven’s sake, to act like we are facing an emergency? Because of the pandemic, many lives have been lost and even more Americans have developed lasting health problems. Economic suffering is also widespread. Just last week, 847,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance.
Donald Trump’s 2020 was a presidency of delay and denial. In contrast, President Joe Biden is acting with dispatch.
The outgoing administration didn’t develop a comprehensive strategy for vaccine distribution and didn’t share this information during the presidential transition. But there is now an experienced team in place, focused on keeping Biden’s promise “to manage the hell out of this operation.”
Doing everything that needs to be done takes that kind of management and also needs real resources that will pay dividends going forward. The real danger is not doing enough.
As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explained, “The benefits of acting now — and acting big — will far outweigh the costs in the long run.”
For Congress, what acting means is passing major legislation aimed at these problems. Biden’s economic relief plan is comprehensive, with additional checks to Americans; help for childcare and tax credits for families with children; enhanced unemployment benefits; paid leave; health care premiums; a higher minimum wage; assistance for businesses, schools and state and local governments; and support for COVID-19 vaccines and testing.
The American people across party lines back bold action, with variations in support depending on specific questions asked.
Polling by Data for Progress found 71 percent of likely voters support spending $2 trillion now, just above the price tag for Biden’s American Rescue Plan. A whopping 78 percent support $2,000 checks, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents, and 64 percent back expanded unemployment benefits.
The polling firm GQR found 77 percent of registered voters support “a major new stimulus package; this includes 92 percent of self-identified Democrats, 73 percent of independents and 64 percent of Republicans.”
A poll from Protect Our Care found 74 percent support for Biden’s proposal, with backing across party lines. When those surveyed were presented with tough criticisms of the plan, two-thirds backed it.
Strong, bipartisan public support was found by Change Research, with Biden’s plan backed by 69 percent, including by “52 percent of Trump voters in households with incomes under $50,000.”
Given how much political polarization and distrust there is in the country now, such high levels of public consensus for this legislation is truly remarkable.
Democrats could pass this very popular legislation on their own if they stay together. They kept control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate, and so can use their majorities to pass certain kinds of laws, including this plan, through a process called reconciliation.
Republicans recently used reconciliation when they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act and when they passed a tax bill most benefiting wealthy individuals and corporations. Both efforts were quite unpopular.
Clearly Republicans miss having the same power they had before our last elections. Last week Sen. Susan Collins said that not using reconciliation “would be very helpful.” On Sunday, she and nine other Republicans proposed spending less than a third of what’s included in Biden’s plan and decreasing and leaving out major programmatic elements.
Democrats should instead move ahead. Slowing down the process and making significant cuts is the wrong move for our time of crisis.
We have to learn from the past. President Barack Obama spent precious time in negotiations with Republicans on his stimulus and health bills and ended up with weaker legislation and little cross-party support. Undermining the stimulus made the economy recover more slowly, harming many Americans.
Now Republicans won’t lack power under reconciliation to affect this legislation. They can influence it through amendments.
Passing this major legislation can do more than deal with a dangerous pandemic and a reeling economy. It can restore American’s faith in our system.
Policies that Americans want and that make a difference people recognize in their lives counters our crisis of democracy. It shows that everyday citizens’ voices matter.
Treating our intertwined crises like a crisis is the right thing to do.