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THOMPSON: How will the American Rescue Plan be remembered?

March 15, 2021 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


I treasure the talks I had with my father before he passed away. He died of lung cancer in 1999...at 85 years young. I spent hours with him sitting on the front porch of the home he built...the home where I grew up in Florida.

We talked about everything...and nothing during his last year. We sat in the two rocking chairs that were variously painted black or white over the decades...fixtures on the front porch. Of course, dying is the only exit strategy for all of us...but knowing you’ll die sooner than later brings an honesty to your conversations...especially with loved ones.

We didn’t talk politics too much...though he clearly preferred Democrats to Republicans...advising me one time with a wink, “If you want to live like a Republican, you better vote Democrat.” Even so, he tended to think of most politicians as Mark Twain once pondered, "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."

There was only one United States president you could not speak badly about without dad’s rebuke...Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR had delivered not only hope to millions of Americans...but self-respect...and actual dollars to lift people out of poverty.

Dad probably didn’t know all the elements of FDR’s New Deal...a series of government programs, public works projects, financial reforms and regulations between 1933 and 1939 that ended the Great Depression.

What dad did know was that at 20 years old...with no savings, no job, no property and no prospects...FDR opened one of 1,800 camps nationwide near Reidsville, GA, about an hour west of Savannah and not far from where dad was born and raised. The camp - for men aged 19 to 25 - was FDR’s new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC men planted three billion trees, built thousands of small bridges and maintained hundreds of forest and parkland access roads.

My dad lived and worked there for six months...earning $30 a month with free room and board. Every month, he sent mom most of that money - $22 to $25 - to live on and save. Mom was a prolific saver...a tight-fisted woman of necessity...who put back that money for their future. Dad reminded me that while $30 doesn’t sound like much today...gas was 10 cents a gallon...bread was 8 cents...a gallon of milk was 40 cents.

I remember looking in my dad’s eyes as he talked about that time in his life. Those years were the foundation of his good life...and his success in pulling himself and my mother and sister through it defined him as a man for the remainder of his life.

“Son, I hope you never know the desperation that so many of us lived,” he said. “Roosevelt saved us...he threw life rings to drowning men...and we grabbed them like they were gold.” These were the words of a man who would later prosper...but he would never forget that FDR’s bold New Deal “saved” him...his word.

Millions of Americans devastated by more than year-long battle with the worst pandemic in a century are saying President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package is equivalent to FDR’s New Deal. Three of every four Americans support Biden’s program...officially the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Only the elected Republicans inside the Capital Beltway fault the relief efforts...not one of the 261 Republicans in Congress voted for it.

It must have been too expensive for Republican sensibilities, eh? Wait, the Trump Republicans spent like drunken sailors...increasing the national debt from $19.9 trillion to $27 trillion, more than a 35 percent increase in just four years...none of that adjusted for COVID-19.

Remember, too, Trump Republicans had no problem giving corporations and millionaires nearly 83 percent of the benefit of the $1.9 trillion so-called 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Republicans have been lying about that “trickle down” nonsense since Reagan in 1981. But enough of telling the truth about Republican voodoo economics.

Biden’s plan - supported by every living Nobel Prize-winning economist - gives $1,400 to every American family member who isn’t wealthy, extends unemployment benefits until Sept. 6 for those forced out of work by COVID, and makes the first $10,200 of those benefits nontaxable for households with incomes under $150,000 a year.

Under previous law, families received a tax credit of up to $2,000 per child under age 17. If the value of the credit was greater than what the family paid in taxes, they received a portion of the credit as a cash payment. Biden’s plan establishes a de facto basic income for children, with parents getting an annual payment of up to $3,600 for children 5 and younger, and up to $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17...real cash every month. The number of children living in poverty will drop from 12 million to six million this month because of these changes.

But Biden’s plan does more than help individual families. In the most damaged economy since the Great Depression, it means an extra $7.25 billion for small business loans; a $25 billion fund for hard hit “food and drinking establishments”; and more than $50 billion in transportation funding. It provides $25 billion in emergency rental and housing assistance to keep Americans in their homes. There are also billions of dollars in funding for personal protective equipment and the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Low-income couples without children will benefit, too...with the earned-income tax credit tripling in value. And increased subsidies for Americans who purchase their health insurance on the marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act...will see the number of uninsured drop by four million people. And there are many other benefits to the nation.

The wealthy in America...who have always managed to do better than other Americans in good times and bad...don’t get money. Instead, they get a more egalitarian society...perhaps the most valuable element in Biden’s plan. Again, every living Nobel Prize-winning economist says this plan is not only affordable...it will be good for the economy both short- and long-term. I trust their assessments more than 261 Republican politicians, who only now are concerned about spending!

So, how will history look on Biden’s and the Democrat’s efforts? Decades from now, old men sitting on porches will tell their adult children about Joe R. Biden - JRB - and how he “saved” them. Like dad and millions of Americans in his generation, millions more today might not know or care much about politics...but they sure as hell know what the right thing to do is when they see it.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.


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