Republicans think they have a good shot to retake Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, and the White House in 2024. They’ll attack President Biden’s federalist expansion and promise voters they’ll rein in out-of-control government.
Voters may not want that. With Biden’s agenda now fully on the table, it’s clear he wants to offer direct government aid to millions of Americans, and especially those who feel most neglected by Washington politicians. He won’t get everything he’s asking for, but Biden and his fellow Democrats will have a pretty good pitch to voters in the next two election cycles: If you want Uncle Same to keep helping, keep Democrats in power.
Biden’s two big legislative proposals, the American Jobs Plan and the American Family Plan, contain dozens of programs that would directly help millions of Americans with child care, health care, college expenses, job training, food procurement and family needs. Here are some of the biggest proposals:
A larger tax cut for families with children. The American Rescue Plan Congress passed in March expanded the child tax credit through the end of 2021, boosting the value for a family earning up to $150,000, with two young kids, by $3,200. Another important change: Starting in July, families will get monthly checks advancing the value of the credit, instead of claiming it the following year when filing their taxes. Biden now wants to extend the more generous tax credit through 2025.
Universal pre-school. Biden wants free pre-school for all 3- and 4-year-olds, with no income threshold for eligibility. The White House says this would save the average family $13,000 while making it easier for parents to work, if they want to.
Child care subsidies. For lower-income families, child care would be free. Subsidies would go to other families earning as much as 1.5 times the median income in their state. Those families would have to pay no more than 7% of their income for child care, with the government covering the rest.
Paid leave. Workers who don’t get this benefit from their employer and need to take time off for a new child or other family need would get up to $4,000 per month, for 12 weeks.
Free community college. All Americans would be eligible for two years of free community college, and there would be additional help for low-income students, such as a $1,400 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award.
Health care subsidies. The American Rescue Plan created temporary new subsidies for higher-income people who buy heath insurance on their own and don’t qualify for a discounted ACA plan. Biden wants to make those subsidies permanent, which the White House says would cut costs for 9 million Americans.
There are more direct-aid programs in Biden’s plan, and then there are Biden’s economywide efforts to retool the nation’s infrastructure and finance a massive shift to green energy. If Congress passes those programs, they'll probably create more jobs than we’d have without them, and Democrats are likely to make sure there’s plenty of spending in swing states key to future elections.
The infrastructure spending will take longer to materialize than the social benefits, and many voters may never feel like they see any connection between new building projects and Biden’s Democrats. But Biden is proposing so many programs at so many different levels that he’ll be able to claim he helped voters in thousands of communities across the country.
2022 battle lines
Congress might plausibly pass one-half to two-thirds of what Biden is proposing, scaling back the price tag on some and eliminating lower-profile projects. That would still leave a huge amount of new spending, and it’s a safe bet the high-profile direct-aid programs are most likely to survive.
That foretells the battle lines in the 2022 midterms, when Democrats must defend extremely narrow majorities in both the House and Senate. Republicans will campaign on rolling back Biden’s big-government campaign, while Democrats will point to new benefits millions of Americans are getting and say, if you want to lose those benefits, vote Republican.
That will effectively put a price tag on voting Republican for millions of Americans getting a tax credit check every month, cheaper health insurance or child care subsidies. The Democratic pitch—we’ll let you keep your new benefits—seems more compelling than Republicans relying on the old “small government” and “repeal and replace” arguments. Biden is also offering some of his proposals, such as universal pre-school and health-care subsidies, to everybody, with no income limits, so he’s not catering exclusively to lower-income Americans who might vote Democratic anyway.
Biden himself may not run for reelection in 2024, but Vice President Kamala Harris or whoever ends up being the nominee will benefit just the same from whatever Biden is able to offer voters by then. Campaign rhetoric will probably be similar, with Democrats defending generous new pocketbook aid and Republicans grousing about overreach. Redistricting, demographic trends and other factors could still benefit Republicans, but Biden is shrewdly positioning his party for the future. If Democrats in Congress don’t pass most of Biden’s plan, it will be an epic example of self-defeat.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.