Democrats say President Biden’s “human infrastructure” bill is a once-in-a-generation chance to deal with racial disparities by creating a slew of subsidies.
Subsidies for everything from buying a home to going to college to paying for internet service are proposed for a multitrillion-dollar package that Democrats are trying to shove through Congress without Republican votes.
Progressive lawmakers and liberal groups insist the expansion of the federal welfare state will help struggling American families and have a profound benefit for minorities who more than Whites people struggle to improve their economic status.
“It has to address equity gaps and closing disparities so that it’s comprehensive,” Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said of the human infrastructure idea in an interview.
Mr. Biden will travel to Crystal Lake, Illinois, to try to sell the “human infrastructure” proposals in his $1.8 trillion package, which the administration titled the American Families Plan.
The price tag, however, could as much as triple with the extra spending eyed by congressional Democrats.
One of the new subsidies, many of which are backed by Mr. Biden, would help “disadvantaged groups” make down payments to buy homes.
Another idea is to make community colleges tuition-free. Slightly more than half of community college students are minorities.
Another proposal would override Republican-run states that chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The federal government would then insure more poor people lacking health coverage, the majority of whom are minorities.
Liberal Democrats also want to strong-arm drug companies to lower the price of prescription medication — a move that would also disproportionately help minorities who are more likely to skip taking medication than Whites because of the cost, according to the plan’s supporters.
The cost of the package, which Democrats also want stuffed with a liberal wishlist including measures to fight climate change, could swell to as much as $6 trillion, according to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats.
“I think the point is that the recovery should not be about recovering to what was a pre-COVID, already-insufficient unjust and inadequate normal,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the Washington Times. “This is the opportunity to both ensure that there’s a robust and equitable recovery and to chart a different path forward.”
Ms. Pressley is a member of both the far-left Squad and the Congressional Black Caucus — two groups exerting pressure on Democratic leadership over the package.
The plan faces opposition from the right because it would increase the size and scope of the federal government.
“President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and the Democrats calling their lurch toward socialism ‘infrastructure’ is a dishonest attempt for more command and control in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which handles among other things, healthcare policy.
Earlier moves by Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats to fix racial disparities with federal spending ran into criticism for being discriminatory by excluding White people.
A provision in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package approved in March canceled farm loans only for minorities. A U.S. District Court judge in Florida last month blocked the program, saying it violates the constitutional rights of White farmers.
It’s unclear if the new spending items will avoid such pitfalls.
Mr. Biden also wants the federal government to pay for raises to child care and eldercare workers. While White workers would qualify for the raises, those jobs are disproportionately held by minorities.
Mr. Biden proposed spending $12.7 billion to expand Medicaid funding to pay for taking care of seniors at their homes. Part of the funding would have to go toward raising pay for the workers, who now make about $12 an hour.
According to Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat and a supporter of the subsidized pay hike, 63% of home-care workers are people of color and 87% are women.
“The work of caregiving predominantly falls on women and particularly on women of color,” Mr. Casey said. “We owe it to caregivers to turn the low-wage work of providing home and community-based services into family-sustaining, middle-class jobs.”
While critics have not taken issue with the idea of helping minorities, they say the proposals are too expensive, grow the welfare state and would intrude upon people’s freedom of choice.
The ideas being discussed would be “one of the largest expansions of the welfare state in history,” said Matt Dickerson, the director of federal budget studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It would expand existing and create new programs ranging from government child care to ‘free’ college, add millions to the rolls, and result in half of working-age American households receiving entitlements. All of this just puts government politicians and bureaucrats in control of more aspects of peoples’ lives and undermines our families and communities.”
However, it’s Democratic lawmakers who most likely would rein in the ambitions of the left. They will need the support of every Democratic senator to ram through the legislation, and several holdouts remain.