Editorial: Biden's bold initiatives

When President Joe Biden addresses Congress this Wednesday night (after today’s deadline) he’ll likely tout his successful turn-around of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — from worst in its class among developed countries to near the top in terms of vaccination role-out, and getting our incidence rates under control. And he’ll tout the quick passage of his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a second round of national aid given to individuals and businesses struggling with the effects of pandemic-related restrictions.

He gets high marks on both achievements.

Americans should consider, however, that both are similar to disaster aid after a hurricane or flood. It is money and medical assistance needed to help Americans in times of crisis. These are not initiatives that set the direction of the Biden-Harris administration — other than to suggest his administration’s high level of competency compared to the government dysfunction seen during the Trump years.

President Biden’s next two programs, on the other hand, are bold initiatives that will fundamentally transform the way Americans perceive and interact with the government. A couple of weeks ago, Biden announced his $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan that would create, as he said in a speech in Pittsburgh, the “most resilient, innovative economy in the world… It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

According to the Times, White House officials said that, if approved, “the spending in the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s…. The spending in the plan covers a wide range of physical infrastructure projects, including transportation, broadband, the electric grid and housing; efforts to jump-start advanced manufacturing; and other industries officials see as key to the United States’ growing economic competition with China. It also includes money to train millions of workers.”

As if his infrastructure plan was not enough, on Wednesday President Biden unveiled his $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” which would, if passed, dramatically expand access to education and safety-net programs to families. Key to the proposal is providing pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and two years of tuition-free community college. Ensuring affordable childcare nationwide is also part of the bill’s scope, as is family leave and a host of other worker benefits common among western economies.

The additional schooling is, at minimum, what the nation needs to remain a front-runner in tomorrow’s economy. Without it, America’s work force will struggle to keep up with its world adversaries and competitors.

And that’s not hyperbole. Today, in Addison County, about 60.3% of high school graduates will go on to attend a two-year or four-year school after graduating from high school. The state average was 61.7% based on the class of 2018, so Addison County students are just below the state average. About 57-59% will go on to graduate with a degree. That’s 40-plus percent of Addison County students who will get little more than a high school education — an education that today doesn’t equip a student to do a lot more than menial service jobs. Without more schooling or training, most won’t be able to work in higher-paying jobs.

We need more tech programs, more apprenticeships, more workforce training — all of which could be wrapped into enhanced two-year community college programs — to fill the jobs the state has open, and to create new jobs. Furthermore, we need more available workers. Providing universal schooling from age 3-5 allows a huge segment of Vermont’s workforce to return to full-time work, plus save $16,000 or so per year on private daycare. Both would be huge boosts to Vermont’s economy (and a reason to push this as a statewide initiative ahead of federal action that may never come.) Other states would benefit as well.

Getting these bold and ambitious programs past Senate Republicans, who are intent on giving tax breaks to the wealthy but resist measures to help the poor and middle class, is the battle to come. What’s instructive, however, is to take a moment to compare the vision that Biden’s approach encompasses versus the Republican game plan.

Trump’s four years summed up the GOP vision with his tax cuts to corporations and the very wealthy, more tax loopholes, cuts to the IRS, and culture wars to keep the base intoxicated, enraged and distracted.

President Biden’s plans invest in rebuilding America’s infrastructure — its bricks and mortar — but also its intellectual capacity, academic research, workforce training and, in short, all things that benefit the American worker. Taxes will increase on those who make over $400,000 per year in income, reducing tax loopholes, and ensuring gigantic corporations pay their share of taxes just as most smaller businesses in America do and other measures that hit the top 1-2 percent — the same group that has most benefitted the previous four years.

No doubt, Biden’s initiatives are expensive, but there’s also no question it’s the direction the nation needs to go.

Angelo Lynn

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Addison County Independent