A close look at Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan
Cut from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, the social spending package still packs a punch
Ground down by congressional negotiations, the massive social spending package at the heart of President Joe Biden’s agenda has shrunk from $3.5 trillion in spending over the next decade to about $1.75 trillion. So far, Congress has dropped climate change measures, free community college, and several tax proposals.
But even a smaller version of the package includes sweeping spending that would touch Americans’ lives from birth to death. On Oct. 28, Biden released a framework summarizing what’s in the package and estimated costs. Here are some of the highlights:
Kids: Biden’s framework begins with government-funded preschool and subsidized child care. Most parents making under $300,000 will get subsidies to ensure they don’t spend more than 7 percent of their income on child care, and federal funding will cover preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Chelsea Sobolik, policy director at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, noted that in the previously released draft of the package, nondiscrimination clauses would leave religious day cares and preschools out. Parents wanting to enroll their kids at religious preschools and day cares, or ones that separate boys and girls, would have to forgo federal funding. If the language doesn’t change, it will incentivize parents to choose secular schools.
“Any federal program should take into account the desires of parents,” Sobolik said. “Which means that a parent should be able to choose a sectarian school if they wish.”
Families with a parent who stays home with children would not get child care subsidies.
Estimated cost: $400 billion
Workforce: Congress cut Biden’s idea for tuition-free community college, but his framework still proposes increasing maximum payments from the Pell Grant, which gives aid to college students from poor families, and promises more funding for apprenticeships and other job training programs.
Estimated cost: $40 billion
Health: The framework promises to fund home care for the elderly and people with disabilities. It would expand eligibility for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and cut premiums, also adding hearing aid coverage to Medicare.
Estimated cost: $315 billion
Climate: Congress has dropped penalties for companies that don’t switch to environmentally friendly technology, but the framework keeps payments rewarding those that do. It also includes rebates for families installing rooftop solar panels and buying electric cars, updates to public transit, and a new conservation-focused Civilian Climate Corps it says will hire 300,000 workers.
Estimated cost: $555 billion
Other: The framework also includes a grab bag of other spending. Extending the expanded child tax credit, a payment for parents, and the earned income tax credit, which benefits low- and middle-income workers, will cost an estimated $200 billion. Smaller ticket items include funding for more affordable housing and rent assistance, rural internet, more free school lunches, lead paint removal, and money to encourage zoning changes.
Estimated cost: $440 billion
Pay-fors: The framework proposes paying for all of this through a string of tax changes, including more tax enforcement, an extra 5 percent tax on income above $10 million a year, and another 3 percent tax on income above $25 million. It also includes a minimum 15 percent tax for companies with more than $1 billion in profits and says a global corporate tax agreement will keep companies from shifting overseas to avoid paying.
Estimated revenue: up to $1.995 trillion
With some aspects of the package still up for debate, Congress may cut it down further. Republicans are unanimously opposed to the package, so it will need every Democratic vote to pass in the evenly split Senate. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., oppose spending a full $3.5 trillion.
Manchin said Tuesday he’s also skeptical of one tactic Democrats have used to shrink the price tag: ending programs sooner. Democrats hope that when the programs expire, they’ll have enough votes to extend them, which would undo the cost cuts. If Manchin forces Democrats to drop that tactic, they’ll have to cut more programs.
After weeks of negotiations, Democrats are eager to get the package to a vote. “This process cannot go on week after week, month after month,” Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders told Roll Call. “It’s finally got to come to an end, and I will do everything I can procedurally to get a vote on the floor of the Senate as soon as possible, hopefully next week.”
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