Biden’s Bet on Big Government

Biden’s Bet on Big Government

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Plus, 3 takeaways from the president's speech
Friday, March 12, 2021

Biden’s Bet on Big Government

With the passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the federal government has now provided more than $5 trillion in relief and stimulus spending in response to the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year, leading some to wonder if we are witnessing the start of a new era of big government.

Gallup’s Frank Newport tackles that issue Friday, noting that the “new legislation once again brings into sharp focus conflicting opinions on the appropriate role of the federal government in Americans' daily lives — at the center of controversy and dispute since the drafting of the U.S. Constitution 230 years ago.”

Americans clearly approve of Biden’s spending plan, Newport says, and have supported all kinds of stimulus spending since the beginning of the pandemic. More broadly, the latest Gallup poll shows that a majority of Americans — 54% — want to see the government do more to solve problems, the highest reading on that question since the polling organization began asking about it in 1992.

Opposition remains: On the other hand, a substantial minority — 41% — say that the government is already doing too much and should allow individuals and businesses to solve their own problems. Those who oppose an expanded role for government sometimes say they are worried about deficits and the debt, although those worries don’t appear in recent poll data, Newport says. “Indeed, if the deficit is a concern, Americans appear to be willing to increase government income with elevated taxes on high-income families and with a wealth tax on ‘ultra-millionaires,’ as proposed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders,” he writes.

A new poll from The Hill and HarrisX backs up Newport’s view, with 56% of respondents in a survey taken from March 5 to March 8 saying that inequality is a problem in the U.S. and a wealth tax is part of the solution. The other 44% said that a wealth tax is unfair and a penalty on successful people. The partisan differences were pronounced in the poll, though, with about 80% of Democrats supporting a wealth tax, and 64% of Republicans and 51% of independents opposing it.

The fight continues: The lack of bipartisan agreement on future spending programs, such as the still-developing infrastructure plan Biden wants to pass, may mean that a new era of big government will have trouble getting started. “If the economy and jobs situation improve markedly, there could in turn be a backlash of sorts to continuing increases in government spending,” Newport says. “And the razor-thin margins of Democratic control of the House and Senate could shift in 2022 or 2024, allowing Republicans to again press their emphasis on curtailing major government spending programs.”

The bottom line: In the long run, crises like the Great Depression and World War II have generated some of the most significant changes in the size and function of government, leaving legacies such as Social Security and the GI Bill in their wake. It’s not clear yet whether the Covid crisis will generate the same kind of legacy. “Big government ... has clearly been a fact of life in the U.S. before the stimulus plans of the past year,” Newport writes. “The question going forward is more about the trajectory of the continuation of this long-term trend, and less about the sudden arrival of a new era of government involvement in our lives.”

3 Takeaways From Biden’s First Primetime Address to the Nation

In his first primetime address to the nation, President Biden on Thursday night presented an optimistic case that the worst of the Covid pandemic might soon be over. Hours after signing his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan into law, Biden marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic by mourning the losses the nation has suffered and outlining the path to brighter days ahead.

Some takeaways from the speech:

Hope for a return to normalcy
: Biden said that the nation was on track to meet his administration’s goal of 100 million shots in arms by his 60th day in office and that he was directing all states, tribes and territories to make sure that all U.S. adults would be eligible for Covid vaccination by May 1. He held out hope that, if Americans got vaccinated and did not ease up prematurely on masking and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus, small July 4th gatherings with family or friends could be possible. "After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special where we not only mark our Independence as a nation but begin to mark our independence from this virus," he said.

Biden paired that optimism with a heavy dose of caution, though. “Just as we were emerging from a dark winter into a hopeful spring and summer is not the time to not stick with the rules,” he said. “This is not the time to let up.” The White House made clear Friday that Biden wasn’t promising a return to “total normalcy” by summertime — so maybe think about the July 4th goal sort of in the way Bill Pullman’s president character put it in the movie “Independence Day”: As a declaration that, "We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!”

We, not me: Biden didn’t mention former President Donald Trump by name, but he criticized the early response to the pandemic, saying that the initial spread of the virus was met with silence and long denials “that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness." And he drew stark contrasts with Trump in other ways, saying that the path out of the pandemic was to “tell the truth” and “follow the scientists and the science.”

He also urged Americans to put their trust in government. “We need to remember the government isn't some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it's us. All of us. We, the people,” he said, later adding, “I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. And that's not hyperbole. I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it's your turn and when you can find an opportunity. And to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well.”

That call to collective action was another dramatic difference from Trump, as The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes: “Instead of a president saying, ‘I alone can fix it,’ Biden said he can only succeed with the help of others.”

The stimulus sales pitch will come later: “A day after the passage of the most far-reaching domestic piece of legislation in decades, Biden spent only the last few minutes in touting his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan,” Jeff Greenfield writes at Politico. “The selling of his Rescue Plan is expected to begin any time, but Biden clearly decided it could wait a day or two.”

Chart of the Day

From The New York Times:

Quote of the Day

“We’re still not yet at the phase of the recovery where we’re seeing the floodgates open up. I don’t think it’s quite fair to call what we’ve done so far ‘reopening’ because there’s still a lot of people who are out of work and a lot of businesses that are closed.”

– Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, quoted in a New York Times article on the condition of the labor market. The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed that while there are some signs of improvement, more than 1 million people filed new unemployment claims last week in state and federal systems.

Number of the Day: $521 Million

The National Guard troops deployed to Washington following the attack on the Capitol by a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump on January 6 will cost $521 million through May, the Department of Defense said Thursday.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced this week that the troops would remain in Washington until May 23, extending their mission beyond the scheduled departure date of Friday. The extension will cost an estimated $111 million, in addition to the estimated $410 million spent on the deployment so far.

About 26,000 Guard members were called to the Capitol in the wake of the attack. That number has been reduced to roughly 2,300 as of this week, and defense officials expect to further reduce the size of the force as conditions allow.

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