President Joe Biden’s proposed American Families Plan is $1.8 trillion of progress. As currently constituted, it would provide free preschool for three- and four-year-olds, universal two-year community college, family leave, and child tax benefits through age 25. These are all major steps forward in a country that provides so few social benefits. They’re also perfect examples of the type of universal relief people need right now.
But what Biden’s taking out stops the American Families Plan from going even further.
The president and his advisors have omitted major healthcare provisions from the bill, including lower the Medicare eligibility age and reducing the cost of prescription drugs. Both moderate and progressive Democrats have advocated for both changes, including groups of more than 80 House reps and 16 senators, respectively. The latter group wanted dental, vision, and hearing coverage to be included as well, according to The Hill.
There are a number of reasons for Biden to leave out these healthcare measures. It’s just that none of them are any good. Anybody fretting over the $1.8 trillion price tag is totally disingenuous. The only cap on how large legislation like this can be is self-imposed. There’s a good chance the administration doesn’t want to pass anything exceeding his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which would explain this bill clocking in at $100 billion less. If you’re really so concerned about racking up the deficit, wouldn’t providing people with basic needs and services be the healthiest, most productive way to spend that money?
Either way, we’re talking about made up numbers here. They’re the kind of totals that the government has no issue printing and using for its own needs, specifically in times of economic crisis. But the other main reason to omit major healthcare measures from the bill is even more obvious. The Hill left it until the final graf, but it might as well be the lede.
Kowtowing to the pharmaceutical industry is exactly what we’d expect from a moderate Democratic president. Most Democratic politicians, really. But most of Biden’s party is arguing against that. They understand the moment, Biden’s currently popularity, and the historic opportunity in front of them. Biden wanted his chance to make a difference for millions of Americans facing immense healthcare costs. He pledged to help ease prescription drug costs and at least hinted at lowering Medicare eligibility. His popularity, and thus bargaining power, will likely never be higher than it is right now. This is the opportunity to thumb the healthcare industry and create lasting change that benefits Americans for generations to come. And Biden’s popularity would only grow because of it.
Democrats could work these healthcare measures into the final bill. They could also potentially pass them using reconciliation. But the best and easiest way to make them law was with the immensely popular Democratic president’s approval. By omitting it, Biden’s signaling that he either doesn’t think it’s realistic or that he doesn’t want it to actually happen. The latter may be true. But with overwhelming public and congressional support the former certainly isn’t.