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ANALYSIS: Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Relief Plan Might Be The Democratic Party’s Ticket To Long-Term Power

(Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Nearly two months into President Joe Biden’s tenure in the White House, he may have already radically altered the political future of Democrats across the country.

In a closely divided House and Senate, Democrats will be hard-pressed to pass a more impactful piece of legislation than the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) between now and the 2022 midterm elections. If the stimulus package succeeds, the party might find itself in a dominant political position moving forward; if it doesn’t, the Biden administration may have squandered hard-won political capital and a relatively advantageous position.

Biden’s situation may not seem advantageous at first glance. Taking over a country mired in a pandemic that has taken more than 500,000 lives and caused immeasurable personal and financial struggle for millions of people is a daunting challenge. But the trends that will get America back to a post-pandemic normal were already underway on Jan. 20. (RELATED: Biden Taps Obama And Clinton Alum Gene Sperling To ‘Run Point’ On Stimulus Implementation)

The signing of the ARPA into law coincides with a steadily increasing vaccination rate in the United States. That vaccination rate was already at about 1 million per day when Biden took office, according to The Washington Post. In other words, the Biden administration didn’t have to change much in order to reach the president’s stated goal of 100 million doses in 100 days.

The post-pandemic economic recovery was also progressing already. Unemployment continued to fall after spiking when COVID-19 took hold of the country, and new jobs continued to be added to the economy around the time Biden took office. The stock market was doing fairly well despite the coronavirus slowing economic growth in 2020, and more states are loosening pandemic-related restrictions, something over which Biden has no control.

Presidents tend to get credit when things are going well though, regardless of how much or how little they had to do with it. Passage of the ARPA will likely be tied to America’s ongoing economic recovery from the virus, and the Biden administration has already indicated it intends to take full credit for the country’s successful vaccination campaign.

Americans largely supported a new round of stimulus spending to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and Democrats used the opportunity to do much more. Not only will the ARPA potentially tie Biden to America’s return to normalcy, but it will also allow progressives to implement a number of policy goals that may have otherwise been difficult to shove through under normal circumstances.

The American Rescue Plan does contain some measures directly related to the pandemic, but much of it falls under the category of standard liberal economic wish-list items. The bill includes a bailout for struggling pension funds, an expansion of the child tax credit, housing cost relief and more. In Politico, Jeff Greenfield called the bill the “most audaciously ambitious social welfare legislation since the New Deal.”

Progressives are hailing the bill as the newest offensive volley in the war on poverty. Biden’s opening act is “the most far-reaching anti-poverty legislation in more than 50 years,” wrote Dylan Matthews for Vox.

Matthews goes on to explain how the ARPA could be a sign of things to come — it could lead to the passage of the American Family Act, the LIFT the Middle Class Act and an expansion of Section 8 housing vouchers. Janan Ganesh wrote in Financial Times that the ARPA signifies America’s move to becoming a social democracy. (RELATED: ‘Life-Changing’: Schumer Urges Biden To Pay Out $50,000 In Debt For Students)

In addition to potentially pushing America closer to the progressive goal of democratic socialism, the ARPA could pay big political dividends for progressives in the short term. The stimulus bill is popular with American voters — a recent Pew poll found that 70% of the country supports the nearly $2 trillion legislation, including 41% of Republicans.

If the package remains popular and is thought to be a significant driver of economic recovery, Republicans will suffer. Not one member of the party voted for the legislation in either chamber of Congress, and only 42% of Americans think the GOP made a “good-faith effort” to work with Biden on the relief bill, according to Pew. Conversely, 57% of Americans think the Biden administration did their best to try to include Republicans in the process.

Republicans generally did support some popular provisions, like personal stimulus checks for Americans and aid for bars and restaurants harmed by the pandemic. They raised concerns over other parts of the bill, though, ultimately deciding that it was too big and not targeted enough to vote for.

The ARPA may also undercut Republicans’ recent messaging on appealing to working-class voters. The Democrats’ plan tackles things like expanding the child tax credit and helping small businesses and workers, for which Republican lawmakers like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have recently advocated.

Biden and his progressive allies aren’t getting a guaranteed win with this stimulus bill by any means. Some economists worry it’s far too expansive and could result in an inflation spike. (RELATED: Biden Administration Reportedly Crafting First Major Tax Hike Since 1993)

There’s also the possibility that economic recovery will be slower than economists expect, which could dampen Democrats’ political prospects like the slow Obama-era recovery did.

Plus, laws tend to decrease in popularity if they are viewed as partisan. With no Republican support for the ARPA, the GOP is trying to cast the plan as a bloated handout to Democratic special interests.

If Republicans succeed in that framing, and America doesn’t get back on track as soon as expected, the GOP may be poised for midterm success. Their 2022 plan will feature continued attacks on the growing “socialism” within the Democratic Party.

If things start to get back to normal soon, though — and the ARPA remains popular with voters — Biden will be leading an administration with a major legislative accomplishment, an improving economy and a receding pandemic. That’s a recipe for midterm success that Republicans will need to counteract if they wish to avoid losses going forward.