Notre Dame community explains turmoil facing Congress
Bella Laufenberg | Friday, October 1, 2021
When President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in November’s general election, he did so in part by swaying the votes of the more radical Democrats. Although he is still considered a moderate, one of the promises of his campaign that may have helped convince those voters was his plans for a robust social safety net.
Now, almost a year later, Biden is struggling to pass a bill to make good on those promises. His administration and other top Democrats have proposed a $3.5 trillion bill that expands on many of the social programs already in place and forms new ones. This bill is hitting a roadblock throughout Congress—being blocked by a few select Democrats and a significant number of Republicans.
Sophomore Benjamin Rascón Gracia, a representative from Notre Dame’s chapter of College Democrats, explained that the bill would have a day-to-day impact on citizens.
Author’s note: The Observer is a politically independent publication. Notre Dame’s College Republicans club did not respond to The Observer’s request for a comment.
“The Biden administration is trying to deliver material well-being to its constituents through a really big social program,” Rascón Gracia said. “[These programs] really are going to be helping the working class and just even middle-class people without having to raise taxes on them.”
He highlighted both the child tax credit and expanded free community college as significant aspects of the bill.
Other programs that would be included under the bill are a universal two-year pre-kindergarten, the covering of some child-care cost, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare, specific job training programs and other various tax credits. The bill also covers some climate change protections.
Rascón Gracia said the bill includes so many different aspects to take advantage of the slim majority the Democrats hold.
“Ideally, you’d have a separate bill that would talk about climate change [and other programs],” he said. “But right now, we have a majority that we need to enjoy. If we don’t pass as many of our priorities as we can, what could happen is we might end up having another situation like the Obama administration, where a lot of priorities weren’t passed.”
The bill is also tied up with a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate with a 69-30 vote and is expected to move to the House floor within the next few days. This expansive bill covers high-speed internet, airports, Amtrak and improving roads and bridges among other projects.
Democrats have been using the infrastructure bill as a tool to motivate their colleagues to support the social safety net bill.
In addition to being tied to the fate of infrastructure bill, many across the legislature attempted to force a government shutdown in response to the social safety net bill. This was avoided when Biden signed a short-term bill that would extend current government spending until December on Thursday night.
The two main critiques of the ambitious bill are the cost and increasing government involvement in the lives of citizens.
Economics professor Forrest Spence explained that the bill will have to pass by a budget reconciliation.
“The bill is going to have to pass budget reconciliation, meaning that it’s budget neutral,” Spence said. “And so, the only way you can pass something like this, without any Republican support, is going to be 50 votes in the Senate, which can pass a budget-neutral bill.”
The bill is currently aiming to pass as budget neutral by increasing taxation on individuals and companies making more than $400,000 per year.
Rascón Gracia said he would counter the increased government involvement claim by explaining that the focus of the bill is to benefit families and strengthen family values — a big focus of the Republican platform.
“When we try to pass bills like these, this is a really big fear that ‘oh my gosh, we’re falling into socialism,” Rascón Gracia said. “If you’re able to provide some form of support to people and families, I mean, what can be more family value aligned than that.”
Spence said there would be both economic risks and benefits to a bill that is this comprehensive.
The increase in government spending and debt would only be a good risk if the gross domestic product (GDP) increases as well because GDP is an indication of the country’s ability to pay off debt, Spence said.
Some are worried that increasing taxation on wealthy companies may decrease their output and the country’s GDP. However, the bill could be worth this cost if the programs — community college, job training programs, etc.— ultimately added to the country’s wealth.
Spence explained that other unexpected costs sometimes come along with such massive system shocks.
“Big shocks to policy generate costs that are somewhat independent of the merits of the policies themselves,” he said.
For Biden to secure his legacy and pass this bill through Congress, he will need to alter the bill in some way. This could include investing in only continuing current programs or possibly focusing more on climate change instead.
In any scenario, it is clear that this bill will continue to be a source for much political debate between and within party lines in the weeks to come.