Biden Rescue Plan: Back to the New Deal?

President Biden has pledged to implement his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan. For Anne Deysine, professor emeritus at the University of Paris Nanterre, this plan also restores the role of the government.

President Joe Biden pledged to implement his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan. He has delivered on that pledge. He first tried to win the support of a few Republicans.

They pretended to negotiate, proposing a $600 billion plan. Biden drew lessons from Barack Obama’s presidency and from the obstruction by Republicans to the 2008 recovery plan after the great recession. He knew that Republicans would accuse him of refusing to cooperate, but he went ahead, explaining that given the choice between an all-Democratic plan and a minimal plan, “it’s an easy choice.” That path was possible since the legislation could proceed under a budgetary procedure called “reconciliation,” which prevents legislative obstruction in the Senate.

Substantively, the plan includes everything Republicans are fiercely opposed to. First and foremost, it provides aid for states and local communities hit hard by the health crisis, a situation Republicans refused deal with by granting federal subsidies. The excuse? Democratic states, mismanaged as they were, would squander money from the plan for fighting COVID-19 and replenish their coffers instead of organizing the distribution of the vaccine and avoiding further layoffs among police forces, justice agencies and school systems.

The Biden plan also includes individual $1,400 checks for households earning less than $75,000, which, for the first time in years, helps the middle class. That population made no mistake, approving the plan by more than 70%, with many Republican voters feeling quite satisfied.

A Real Fight against Poverty

The rescue plan marks a progressive revolution, the first since the New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, because it really fights poverty. This plan also restores the role of the government. Since the creation of the young republic in 1787, mistrust of the federal government is part of every American’s DNA. Ronald Reagan normalized hostility toward the government when he declared during his 1980 campaign, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Since then, Republicans have taken every opportunity to cut the budget of many federal agencies, with the exception of the Pentagon. Former President Donald Trump refused to appoint a number of senior officials to government posts, having judged their positions to be unnecessary.

Two months into his term, the new president has conveyed the message that an efficient and competent federal government working for the good of the people is possible and desirable. But things are far from settled. In order to pass immigration reform, an ambitious infrastructure plan, gun control and especially, a plan to protect the right to vote which is under attack from Republicans in the states, President Biden will have to either “find” 10 Republican senators likely to vote for the legislation passed by the House, or defeat the filibuster, a technique of parliamentary obstruction.

As the first option is highly unlikely given the polarization in the Senate, Biden will have to convince all Democratic senators to tighten filibuster rules, by requiring, for example, that opposing senators actually take the podium for the hours required. If Biden convinces all Democratic senators to eliminate the filibuster, he will then be able, as in the House, to pass all legislation with a simple majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris adding a 51st vote to break the tie. Without this, the necessary progressive revolution that a moderate centrist president is attempting to bring about will not happen.

Anne Deysine, professor emeritus at the University of Paris Ouest-Nanterre, is an expert on political and legal issues in France and the United States.

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