Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the April 1 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
Will JRB take his place alongside FDR and LBJ?
President Joseph Robinette Biden just unveiled the latest move in his quest to transform the US economy to boost working Americans rather than the wealthy. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan follows a $1.9 trillion Covid rescue program that doubles as a bid to lift millions of Americans out of poverty, and will soon be followed by a jobs initiative that could also hit the trillion dollar mark.
If he can force all this into law, Biden will lay claim to a spot in the Democratic pantheon alongside Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson who used vast government power to reorient the economy and benefit the poor with their New Deal and Great Society programs.
The President complained as he unveiled his plan in Pittsburgh – the kind of gritty blue collar city he loves – that the top 1% saw their wealth rise by $4 trillion during the pandemic while millions of Americans lost jobs. “Just goes to show you how distorted and unfair our economy has become,” Biden said. “Wasn’t always this way. Well, it’s time to change that.”
Biden wants to do more than repair America’s crumbling roads, bridges and airports. He proposes $300 billion to boost manufacturing. Another $400 billion would fund care services for the aged and disabled. There’s $100 billion each to replace lead water pipes, build new public schools and get every citizen access to broadband. Biden plans to create good paying jobs with a $600 billion payout for highways, railroads and bridge repair. And he aims to pay for all this by raising the corporate tax rates that Donald Trump slashed to 21% to 28% and with various other taxes on big business.
It will be a huge lift to get it all through Congress. Republicans are likely to oppose the bill en masse as too expensive, as they try to deny the new Democratic President another political triumph. A 50-50 Senate is a tricky obstacle and some Democrats are already griping that another $2 trillion in government spending isn’t enough.
But Biden is betting that – as with his popular Covid plan – he can win support even from some Republican voters outside Washington and ram his infrastructure reforms into law by the end of the summer.
A few weeks more
The US has now administered 150 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine and one in six Americans is fully protected. But the pace is still too slow.
The long trek down the winter infection curve is being reversed as new viral variants, for now, outrun the rush to get shots in arms. The problem is being exacerbated by the refusal of many state governors and local officials to learn the lessons of history, as they drop mask mandates and throw open restaurants, bars and businesses before the virus is eradicated. The heady prospect of a semblance of normality seems to be fueling a frenzy – just look at the thousands who flocked to Florida beaches on spring break.
Biden has pleaded with state governors to keep mask mandates and restrictions in place for a little longer. The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says she fears “impending doom.” But the governors aren’t listening. Mississippi’s Tate Reeves says falling viral numbers in his state no longer justify “government overreach.” And he adds: “Mississippians can make their own decisions.”
Impatience can kill, and such twists of public health guidance are likely to cause a surge again, like they did last summer, when Trump goaded governors into mass openings and caused a Sun Belt epidemic. Those who die in the coming weeks may tragically have been within days of a lifesaving vaccination.