It seems like all we’ve been talking about for months is the “Build Back Better” plan. Yet, strangely, there is very little public understanding of what it is. For naysayers, it is an extremely aggressive waste of social spending. For the fans, it is a critical and long overdue investment in neglected aspects of our society.
Now, the actual contents of the bill are finally taking shape. On the Podcast of great ideas with Matt Robison, guest Ben Ritz, the director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute, walked through the mystery, pitfalls and promise of the Build Back Better (BBB) bill. And he answered the question: Will this bill really work and really do something good for America?
Listen to the full conversation here:
This conversation has been condensed and edited.
What has the Biden administration already accomplished through the American Rescue Plan and the yet-to-be-approved infrastructure bill?
The US $ 1.9 trillion bailout was the way to fill the void left by the end of the Trump administration and get America out of the pandemic. It included a lot of expenses for things like unemployment insurance, stimulus checks, and aid to state and local governments. And [looking at GDP and unemployment] I think there is no doubt that it has been effective in solving the problems right now.
The infrastructure bill is about the future: where the Biden administration wanted to see our country go after the pandemic. The idea is embodied in the expression “rebuild better”. The discussion has therefore shifted to traditional infrastructure versus programs such as paid leave and aged care that may not qualify as the same type of long-term investment. So those were split into two different bills.
Speaking of which, there is a third bill that everyone forgets and it may be the most important, namely the US Innovation and Competition Act, which focuses on research and development and long-term competitiveness.
There seem to be two possible strategies for the Democrats: to do a little bit of everything at BBB, or to have a more focused and disciplined approach around a few big goals. Who did the Democrats go with?
When we wrote a report on this a month ago, we proposed a package of around $ 2 trillion where about half of the money was used to support working families, a third was used to fight climate change, and the rest. it has been used to strengthen health care for people in need. The picture we have today is very similar to that.
But under the hood, congressional leaders have taken more of a grab bag approach to fit within the overall price tag limit and include many competing interests. For example, the child tax credit: instead of making it permanent, one part of the expansion is permanent, but another part expires after a year. Universal pre-K only lasts six years for the same reason. Then they sneaked into an expansion of Medicare and home health care for older Americans. Also, paid family and medical leave was not part of the picture, but it could be sneakily back.
Overall, sadly, it went more in the direction of “making everything a little worse and temporarily” and not so much “doing some things well and permanently” as I would have preferred.
What are the pieces that you are very sure of will work and have a great effect?
There are two things I’m most excited about. First, the full refundability of the child tax credit. This means that if the tax credit is greater than what you owe in taxes, you are actually getting a payment from the government. These account for most of the poverty reduction resulting from the child tax credit, and it will be huge for poor children in America. Secondly, I think that many climate provisions could be very useful for research and development, and also for expanding purchases of renewable energy and electric vehicles and switching to clean energy.
Bottom line: is this ultimately a good account? Will it work?
It is a bit to define because they are still working on it. But a lot of these programs, even some of the ones I put in the editing room when we did our report, are great ideas. I wish we had been able to prioritize and focus more. Overall this might be great, but we’ll have to wait and see.
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Matt Robinson is a writer and political analyst who focuses on the demographic, psychological, political, and economic trends that are shaping American politics. He spent a decade working on Capitol Hill as the legislative director and chief of staff for three members of Congress, and has also worked as a senior consultant, campaign manager or consultant on several congressional contests, with a focus in New Hampshire. In 2012, it ran a comeback race that national political analysts called the biggest surprise victory of the election. He went on to work as political director in the New Hampshire state senate, successfully helping coordinate the legislative effort to pass Medicaid expansion. He has also done extensive work in the private sector on energy regulatory policy. Matt holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Swarthmore College and a master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He lives with his wife and three children in Amherst, Massachusetts.