Joe Biden has been President for barely a month, and he has already proved me wrong.
Don’t misunderstand–I have always really liked Biden. I have read enough stories and heard about enough incidents from people who know him personally to recognize that he is a genuinely decent, caring human being. A mensch. I was in agreement with his platform, and I was happy to vote for him. But his long history of bipartisanship in the Senate–not to mention the Obama Administration’s (constantly rebuffed) efforts to reach across the aisle–led me to expect more of the same.
Instead, Biden hasn’t just “hit the ground running.” He has been aggressive and arguably transformative. He has acted decisively to rid the federal government of the sleeper agents (my terminology, but I’d argue it’s accurate) inserted in various agencies; he’s appointed highly competent, experienced people to replace the corrupt lobbyists and know-nothings intent upon crippling those agencies, and I have applauded his clear commitment to the environment, to ending the pandemic and getting the economy back on track, among numerous other things.
While Biden has been civil and welcoming to Republicans who have made noises about compromise–Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post dubbed Biden’s recent meeting with ten GOP Senators an “exercise in performative bipartisanship”– he’s also made it very clear that he intends to fulfill his campaign promises with or without them. No more falling for what has aptly been called the GOP’s “Lucy and the football” ploys.
In other words, the good news has just kept coming!
And here’s more: I only recently became aware of an incredibly important element of Biden’s pandemic stimulus–a measure that experts say could reduce childhood poverty by fifty percent.
President Biden included a proposal in his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that one study says would cut child poverty by half. We in the news media have focused on direct payments to individuals, but the historic element of Biden’s plan is its effort to slash child poverty.
“The American Rescue Plan is the most ambitious proposal to reduce child poverty ever proposed by an American president,” Jason Furman, a Harvard economist, told me.
It will not surprise anyone to know that this provision was entirely absent from the Republican “compromise” proposal. (The party of “religion and Jesus and children,” as Representative Rosa DeLauro sarcastically put it…Or as Kristof writes, “Jesus says (19:14) suffer the little children to approach him; he absolutely does not recommend that the little children shall suffer.”)
Biden’s plan to address child poverty would expand the existing child tax credit, up to $3,600 a year for young children. There is an existing child tax credit, but the way it currently works, the families that are most in need of it earn too little to take advantage of it. They earn too little to pay taxes, and the credit is taken against taxes owed. So it looks progressive–even magnanimous– but in practice, it isn’t.
Biden’s plan would change the credit into a monthly stipend–and as Kristof notes, even a sum as modest as $3,600 would be utterly transformative for many low-income families.
One reason to think that this would be so successful is that many other countries have used similar strategies to cut child poverty by large margins. Canada’s parallel approach cut child poverty by 20 to 30 percent, depending on who’s counting, and Britain under Tony Blair cut child poverty in half.
Now that Democrats are in power, Republicans can be expected to protest that the country can’t afford Biden’s plan. (That protest conveniently overlooks the $2.3 trillion dollar cost of their massive tax cut, which primarily enriched the already affluent.) A cost-benefit analysis says we certainly can afford it, because it will ultimately save money– current estimates put the costs of child poverty to the United States at about $1 trillion annually, a sum that reflects reduced adult productivity, increased crime and higher health care costs.
During the primaries, I worried that both Biden and Bernie were too old. I was wrong. It may be that Biden expects to be a one-term president–a realization that frees him from second-term electoral calculations, and reminds him that he has a limited time to turn the country around.
Whatever the reason, I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Biden is on his way to being a truly transformative president.