Invest in the American people
On March 11, 2021, President Joseph Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law. This $1.9 trillion stimulus bill includes $1,400 direct payments, an extension of boosted unemployment benefits ($300-per-week), a temporary expansion of the child tax credit, and temporarily increased subsidies for ACA insurance. The package provides $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments, $130 billion for schools, and funding for businesses, vaccine distribution, and COVID testing.
The stimulus is popular. The Pew Research Center indicates that 70% of Americans approve. It is also likely to be effective in improving economic conditions. Columbia University researchers project that it will lift 13 million+ Americans out of poverty, and that making the child tax credit permanent would cut child poverty in half.
Despite clear and pressing need for economic relief, widespread public support, and research predicting significant benefits, the American Rescue Plan failed to garner bipartisan support in Congress. It narrowly passed along party lines, and would not have passed at all without the use of budget reconciliation – a procedure that allows a bill to dodge the filibuster, but restricts its contents.
While the American Rescue Plan demonstrates that Congress can enact beneficial legislation for the country, its passage is a reminder that our institutions and our national politics need reform.
First, we need to amend the filibuster to allow the Senate to function as a majority rule institution. In the modern Senate, the silent filibuster kills most bills. For a substantial piece of legislation to have any realistic hope of becoming law, it must evade the filibuster by passing through budget reconciliation.
The filibuster results in suboptimal policy design because it forces lawmakers to create policy that meets the requirements of budget reconciliation, rather than creating the best possible policy. Amending the filibuster will enable better policy design, encourage collaboration, and allow the federal government to get more done.
Secondly, some of our elected representatives need to start doing their job. Over the past year, the US was blindsided by a deadly pandemic that has taken the lives of over 540,000 Americans and caused a severe economic crisis. Many people have lost their jobs or closed their businesses. Many struggle to pay the rent, keep the lights on, and put food on the table.
When faced with an economic and public health emergency of this magnitude, the government’s job is to identify and implement solutions. Its responsibility is to ensure that citizens have the resources they need to provide for themselves and their families during the pandemic, and rebuild their lives and economic security afterwards. The legislators who created the American Rescue Plan did their job; they passed a law that serves the people. Unfortunately, many representatives, including the 1st District’s Jack Bergman, did not.
Representative Bergman and his colleagues opposed the American Rescue Plan. They claim that it is too expensive, and is unnecessary because the US already spent money on pandemic relief. This is like trying to save money by not fixing your broken car. Sure, repairing it is expensive, and you spent money fixing it last year. But it doesn’t run today, and you won’t get anywhere without fixing it.
While Mr. Bergman and his colleagues apparently don’t want to spend too much money helping low- and middle-income Americans survive a pandemic, in 2017, Mr. Bergman supported the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’. This act awarded huge tax cuts to corporations and the extremely rich, and left the US with an additional $1.9 trillion of debt according to Congressional Budget Office.
In Houghton County, the median household income is $43,183 and 14.7% of the population lives in poverty. Keweenaw, Baraga, and Ontonagon Counties report similar statistics – all falling well below the national average for median household income ($68,703). People in the 1st District will benefit from the direct payments, unemployment benefits, and child tax credits in the American Rescue Plan. In opposing it, Representative Bergman voted against his constituents.
If elected representatives care about working Americans, they should support legislation that benefits working Americans. If they are concerned about spending, they should raise taxes on billionaires. When it comes to helping small businesses keep their doors open, and helping families put food on the table, spending too much is far better than spending too little.
The American Rescue Plan is not perfect. But many of its provisions will make a tremendous positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans. We need to pass more legislation like this, because the United States thrives when government invests in the American people. Our Congressional representatives should remember that this is what we elected them to do.
Nicholas Wilson is a Keweenaw resident and a freelance journalist.