The good news is that the American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in March, has been effective. At a time of unprecedented health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic, it did exactly what a democratic government in a civilized society is supposed to do: respond to the needs of people in despair.
The act provided much-needed direct payments to struggling families, protected the unemployed, fed the hungry, prevented evictions, and allowed small businesses to survive. It helped jump-start the economy, which grew in the second quarter at an annualized rate of 6.5%. Perhaps most important, it provided funding for the government to expand the vaccine program and save thousands of lives.
The bad news is that the American Rescue Plan didn’t address the long-neglected structural crises that many U.S. families face: Three people own more wealth than the bottom 50%, real wages for workers haven’t increased in almost 50 years, and we are facing the existential threat of climate change.
We need structural reforms to improve the lives of U.S. families. If Democrats can’t get Republican support for these reforms, then we have to do it alone through the reconciliation process.
In recent years, Republicans used reconciliation to pass trillions in tax breaks, which primarily benefit the rich and large corporations, and they used it to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act and throw some 32 million people off the healthcare they had. We are going to use it too. But we will use it to support the middle class and struggling families and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.
Here is some of what is in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that the Senate Budget Committee agreed to:
We are going to end the days of billionaires not paying their fair share of taxes by closing loopholes, while also raising the individual tax rate on the wealthiest Americans and the corporate tax rate for the most profitable companies in our country.
We will take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, which charges U.S. residents the highest prices in the world by far for prescription drugs. Under our proposal, Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate prescription drug prices with the industry.
We will end the absurdity of the U.S. having the highest levels of childhood poverty of almost any major nation by extending the Child Tax Credit so families continue to receive monthly direct payments of up to $300 a child. We will radically improve our dysfunctional child-care system so that no working family pays more than 7% of its pretax income on child care, and we will provide universal pre-K to every 3- and 4-year-old.
We will expand higher education and job-training opportunities for students by making community college tuition-free for all Americans.
We will end the international disgrace of the U.S. being the only industrialized country not to guarantee paid family and medical leave. Women shouldn’t have to return to work a week after giving birth because they have no paid leave and can’t afford to stop working.
We will expand Medicare for seniors to cover dental needs as well as hearing aids and glasses. We will also make sure that we have enough doctors, nurses and dentists in underserved areas, while expanding Medicaid to provide healthcare to the uninsured.
We will give hundreds of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities the ability to get the care they need in their own homes instead of in expensive nursing facilities.
We will also address homelessness and the national housing crisis by making an unprecedented investment in affordable housing.
Further, we will provide undocumented people living in the U.S. with a pathway to citizenship, including Dreamers and the essential workers who courageously kept our economy running in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Perhaps most important, we will begin the process of shifting our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy to combat the existential threat of climate change. This effort will include a nationwide clean-energy standard that moves our transportation system, electrical generation, buildings and agriculture toward clean energy. We will also create a Civilian Climate Corps, which will hire hundreds of thousands of young people to protect our natural resources and fight against climate change.
This is a large and unprecedented piece of legislation. But we are living in an unprecedented moment. Now is the time for bold action.