January 14, 2021
“Come Wednesday, we begin a new chapter.”
So said President-Elect Joe Biden tonight as he laid out a plan for a $1.9 trillion emergency vaccination and relief package to get the country through and past the coronavirus. The Trump administration created no federal program for the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, leaving us woefully behind where we need to be to get our population vaccinated. And the virus is spreading fast. Over the past week, we have had an average of almost 250,000 new cases a day of coronavirus, with daily deaths on either side of 4000. We are approaching 390,000 recorded deaths from Covid-19.
Biden’s plan calls for $50 billion to ramp up Covid-19 testing, including rapid tests, and to help schools and local governments establish regular testing systems. It calls for an investment of $30 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund to make sure it can provide supplies for the pandemic.
It starts by addressing the pandemic, for both Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris believe that until people are comfortable circulating again, the economy will not rebound. But the plan also calls for federal support to rebuild the economy, a reflection of the ongoing crisis that in the last week led 965,000 Americans to turn to unemployment insurance for the first time, joining more than 5 million who have already filed claims.
The plan calls for $1400 stimulus checks for individuals, expanded unemployment benefits through September, an end to eviction and foreclosure until September 30, $30 billion to help people meet payments for rent or utilities, and a $15 minimum wage. Biden is calling for aid for child care, a $3 billion investment in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments to support front line workers.
Biden laid out his ambitious plan even as fallout continued from the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., when Trump supporters tried to overturn his victory in the 2020 election. Today the FBI continued to track down and arrest rioters, while the pro-Trump faction of the Republican Party continued its attempt to wrest control from establishment Republicans.
But while Republican lawmakers are calling for “unity” to deflect attention from the riot and to avoid accountability, Biden used this speech, at this time, to calm tensions and call for unity to move all Americans forward.
He emphasized, as he always does, that he wants to be a president for all Americans, not just those who voted for him, and that if we work together we can accomplish anything. He tried to appeal to disaffected Republicans by highlighting his plan to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, as well as to create new, well-paying jobs in new fields and in long delayed infrastructure projects. To reach out to religious voters who were horrified last week by the vision of those who self-identify as Christians calling for the death of Vice President Mike Pence, Biden emphasized the morality in the plan: a good society should not let children go to bed hungry.
He made a sharp contrast with the current president, not only by sharing an actual plan to confront real problems, but also by empathizing with Americans who have lost loved ones to the pandemic and who are hurting in the stalled economy. “Every day matters, every person matters,” he said.
But Biden’s plan is far larger than a way to address our current crisis. It outlines a vision for America that reaches back to an older time, when both parties shared the idea that the government had a role to play in the economy, regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure.
That vision was at the heart of the New Deal, ushered in by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the Great Crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed it illustrated that the American economy needed a referee to keep the wealthy playing by the rules. Government intervention proved so successful and so popular that the Republican Party, which had initially recoiled from what its leaders incorrectly insisted was communism, by 1952 had adopted the idea of an activist government. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower added the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to the Cabinet on April 11, 1953, and in 1956 signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which began the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highways.
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