And it represents a substantial shift from where the party was in 2009, and a huge one from 1995:
To appreciate the concrete significance of the ARP for ordinary Americans — and, by extension, the significance of having 50 Democratic votes in the Senate versus 49 — here are a few of the ways life in the U.S. is about to change as a result of a unified Democratic government coming to power:
• The average household in the bottom quintile of America’s economic ladder will see its annual income rise by more than 20 percent.
• A family of four with one working parent and one unemployed one will have $12,460 more in government benefits to help them make ends meet.
• The poorest single mothers in America will receive at least $3,000 more per child in government support, along with $1,400 for themselves and additional funds for nutritional assistance and rental aid.
• Child poverty in the U.S. will drop by half.
• More than 1 million unionized workers who were poised to lose their pensions will now receive 100 percent of their promised retirement benefits for at least the next 30 years.
• America’s Indigenous communities will receive $31.2 billion in aid, the largest investment the federal government has ever made in the country’s Native people.
• Black farmers will receive $5 billion in recompense for a century of discrimination and dispossession, a miniature reparation that will have huge consequences for individual African-American agriculturalists, many of whom will escape from debt and retain their land as a direct result of the legislation.
• The large majority of Americans who earn less than $75,000 as individuals or less than $150,000 as couples will receive a $1,400 stimulus check for themselves and another for each child or adult dependent in their care.
• America’s child-care centers will not go into bankruptcy en masse, thanks to a $39 billion investment in the nation’s care infrastructure.
• Virtually all states and municipalities in America will exit the pandemic in better fiscal health than pre-COVID, which is to say a great many layoffs of public employees and cutbacks in public services will be averted.
• No one in the United States will have to devote more than 8.5 percent of their income to paying for health insurance for at least the next two years, while ACA plans will become premium-free for a large number of low-income workers.
• America’s unemployed will not see their federal benefits lapse this weekend and will have an extra $300 to spend every week through the first week in September.
This is a small sampling of the COVID-relief bill’s consequences (more comprehensive accounts of its provisions can be found here and here). But it is sufficient to establish that something has dramatically changed in the Democrats’ approach to wielding power.
When pundits suggested progressives had little hope of getting major reform through a 50-vote Democratic majority, their speculation was well founded. After all, when Democrats had 60 votes in 2009, they struggled for more than a year to pass a watered-down version of progressives’ health-care-reform agenda, then left the bulk of their party’s constituencies with unfulfilled IOUs.
And yet: Twelve years later, with just 50 Senate votes — including one from a state Republicans won by 40 points in November — Democrats managed to pass one of the largest fiscal programs in U.S. history within weeks of Biden’s inauguration. Obama spent the better part of his first year in office seeking bipartisan buy-in for the Affordable Care Act. Biden just slapped most of his own health-care agenda on top of a $1.9 trillion relief bill and then rammed it through Congress before his administration’s two-month anniversary.
This is how progressives have been begging their party to govern for more than a decade: Ignore the Beltway’s fetish for bipartisanship and deliver big, clear gains to the American people. The Democratic leadership has now affirmed that counsel in both word and deed. As Schumer told the Washington Post this week, “What happened in 2009 and ’10 is we tried to work with the Republicans, the package ended up being much too small, and the recession lasted for five years. People got sour; we lost the election.”
The idea that Biden would govern as some kind of 90s-era neoliberal was always dumb — presidents lead coalitions, and Biden has moved with the center of the party consistently throughout his career — but I don’t think a year ago today anybody could have anticipated legislation of this magnitude passing a 50/50 Senate either. And it’s a reminder that while they didn’t result in him being the nominee Bernie Sanders’s primary campaigns did more to move the party to the left than any third party vanity campaign ever has or ever will.