The $1.9 Trillion Question in the Senate


In the language of economics, the bill is highly progressive — sending more money to middle-class and lower-income families than to upper-income families. Some of the cash payments would go only to lower-income families (like food aid), while others would be nearly across-the-board (like the $1,400 checks) but would have a larger proportional impact on poorer families.

Over all, an analysis by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University found that Biden’s proposal (which is similar to the House bill) would reduce poverty by almost 30 percent in 2021, moving 12 million Americans above the poverty line.

Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t merely try to halt the Great Depression after taking office; he also restructured the U.S. economy, by creating federal programs and strengthening labor unions. Ronald Reagan, coming from the other side of the political spectrum, didn’t merely try to crush inflation; he also transformed the tax code.

The virus relief bill is not on the same scale, partly because most of its provisions would expire over the next few months. Biden has signaled that his next major proposal — known as Build Back Better — is his more sweeping attempt to fix the U.S. economy.

But the current bill may still have some long-term impact. Many Democrats hope that some of the provisions — like the universal monthly payment for children and the expansion of jobless benefits — will prove popular enough that Congress later extends them.

The Senate will almost certainly remove a minimum-wage increase in the bill. It’s also possible that some Democratic senators will try to restrict how many households are eligible to receive the $1,400 checks — or otherwise reduce the bill’s size.

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