Safety net ‘sugar’ in Biden’s second infrastructure bill will be hard for Republicans to get rid of if it passes



“The administration’s plan is simple,” Sen. Ted Cruz reasoned. “Get everyone addicted to the sugar.”

Cruz’s warning, about stopping the Affordable Care Act in 2013, has since found vindication in countless failed GOP attempts to repeal it. And that demonstrates the challenge President Joe Biden’s agenda now poses to conservatives intent on keeping spending and taxes as low as possible.
The “sugar” in Biden’s American Families Plan — from universal pre-school to new Medicare dental insurance, expanded college aid to mandated paid work leave — makes the sweetness in Obamacare seem mild. The Democratic President wants to substantially increase the size and scope of those benefits, too.

Biden would finance his plans by, among other methods, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. The broad popularity of his proposals suggests the benefits will be difficult to uproot if Republicans regain power and decide to try.

Their scale has gotten scant attention lately as the White House grapples with the Covid resurgence and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan Senate compromise on roads, bridges, broadband and other “hard infrastructure” investments. But soon those benefits will dominate congressional debate as Democrats try to advance their $3.5 trillion budget plan over solid Republican opposition.

Some are already flowing temporarily under provisions of the Covid relief law enacted earlier this year. Examples calculated by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show their life-changing dimensions for millions of American families.

Biden’s expanded child tax credit would boost by nearly one-third the income of a single mother earning $15,000 with a toddler and a second-grader. The expanded, refundable credit — easily available even to those without income tax liability — would provide her $4,725 in additional cash.

More affluent families would also benefit. A family of four earning $90,000 with children aged 8 and 13 would see their child tax credits rise by $2,000.

Expanded Obamacare subsidies would provide a much larger windfall to some middle-class families. A 30-year-old couple earning $70,000 would save $17,100 — one-fourth of their household income — from a drop in their premiums to $496 from $1,920 per month.

Then there’s an increase in the tax credit for child care and dependent care expenses to $4,000 per month from $600, up to $4,000 per month in paid family and medical leave from employers, and a doubling of scholarships for future teachers to $8,000 annually while they earn their degrees. While providing universal low-cost pre-school and two years of free community college, Biden would boost the size of Pell Grants for college tuition by $1,400.

In addition to dental coverage, Medicare beneficiaries would gain new hearing and vision benefits as well. Some formerly incarcerated felons would gain access to food stamps. Childless adults would receive more from the Earned Income Tax Credit. And much more.

“We know what families need,” Heather Boushey, a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. For every $1 spent on the augmented Child Tax Credit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asserted last week, research shows society would reap $8 in benefits through expanded labor supply, higher educational attainment and fewer teen births among recipient families.

“My largest concern is not ‘what are the risks if we make these investments?’ It is ‘what is the cost if we don’t?'” Yellen said in a speech. “We have a chance now to repair the broken foundations of our economy, and on top of it build something fairer and stronger than what came before.”

Historical lessons

Moderate and conservative lawmakers and economists, in both parties, lodge an array of criticisms: that the spending will fuel damaging inflation, that it will hike the national debt, that some provisions are poorly targeted and wasteful. Liberal Democrats want to spend more than $3.5 trillion, but amassing the votes for passage will almost certainly require trimming or discarding some proposals.

In theory, lavishing benefits on American voters could pay Biden big political dividends. Or not, as Democrats learned in losing five of the next six presidential elections after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law in 1965.

A recent Niskanen Center analysis shows the expanded Child Tax Credit would disproportionately benefit rural areas, which tend to have lower incomes and larger families. But many rural voters choose candidates based on Republican-friendly cultural issues, not the economic topics Democrats prefer talking about.

Nor is it certain Americans will keep supporting pandemic-era help they’ve embraced for now.

Yet history shows broadly available benefits — from Obamacare to farm subsidies to tax cuts — become difficult to reverse once enacted.

One exception came in the late 1980s when Congress passed, then quickly repealed, a new “catastrophic care” benefit under Medicare. Raucous protests by senior citizens, who feared the new coverage wasn’t worth “supplemental premiums” of up to $1,600 per couple, fueled the reversal.

Biden’s plan seeks to dodge that problem by avoiding anything sour for nearly all families. No one earning less than $400,000, he promises, will see their taxes go up by even a penny.



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