Shrinking Biden economic plan poses an election risk in the suburbs

Mike Dorning, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Jones and Rep. Katie Porter, whose district is in California’s suburban Orange County, rejected any means testing, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that broad-reaching programs “build solidarity” that “can withstand changing political winds.”

“Republicans have been very effective historically at pitting groups of people against each other, particularly against lower-income people of color as being undue recipients of government relief,” Jones said in an interview. “We avoid those problems when everyone is covered by a social safety net.”

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who polled for Biden’s campaign, said she hasn’t tested public opinion on the impact of stricter means testing, but the resonance across society of family-life challenges such as child care, college tuition and health coverage is central to the Democratic agenda’s political appeal.

“The secret sauce of the ‘Build Back Better’ program is that people think it helps them, that it deals with real problems and things that could happen to anyone, and Covid more than anything has shown that,” Lake said.

Biden and other Democrats have long promoted his economic agenda as geared toward bolstering the middle class, a broad category that surveys show as many as 90% of Americans consider themselves as a member.

The centrist House New Democrat coalition, a group of 95 lawmakers who in many cases represent higher-income areas, homed in on those promises as it pushed back against calls to lower the income limits for the child tax credit.


“Scaling back or limiting the accessibility of this critical pillar of President Biden’s agenda would hurt middle-class families and our children’s futures,” said the group’s chair, Rep. Suzan DelBene, whose Washington state district includes suburban Seattle. She added that members of the coalition from battleground districts are “majority makers in the House, and it is our constituents who would be left behind.”

Couples earning up to $150,000 annually have been eligible under Biden’s March pandemic-relief bill for an expanded child tax credit of $250 or $300 per month per child, depending on the child’s age. Couples earning up to $182,000 can receive part of the credit. The New Democrats want the expanded child tax credits, which otherwise would expire at year-end, continued as is, and highlight it as a marquee middle-class tax cut.

Jason Furman, a senior economic adviser to former President Barack Obama who favors more aggressive means testing, said it is “the least-bad trade-off” and will keep a scaled-down package focused on areas where it is most effective. For instance, financial help for preschool is most effective in promoting education and future economic growth when it goes to families that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford it or been forced into a low-quality school, he said.

Furman rejects arguments that targeting pieces of the package at the neediest will imperil them over time, citing the durability of means-tested benefits such as Medicaid and Pell Grants.

“I do not have reason to doubt a member of Congress’ view that they will benefit more in the next election by giving more money to more people,” Furman said. “But I seriously doubt that the long-term political survival of a program is impaired by means testing.”

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