As Democrats forge ahead with unilateral negotiations on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending package, Republicans – and at least one Democratic moderate – caution the expansive slate of social programs included in the bill could have lasting negative consequences for American workers.
The $3.5 trillion spending bill includes many social initiatives championed by progressives, including an extension of monthly child tax credit payments, universal pre-K, free college tuition, paid family leave and expanded child care. Biden and progressive backers say the slate will create a more inclusive economy that will provide new opportunities for low- and middle-income families.
Under the plan, a grant program would make free community college available regardless of people's "basis of citizenship, alienage, or immigration status." Medicare would add dental, hearing and vision benefits to its coverage. And, the government would shell out some $200 billion to establish universal pre-kindergarten for kids 3 and 4 years of age.
But critics say Biden’s social spending programs will effectively create a "welfare state" that will hurt the ongoing U.S. economic recovery and expand the government's influence over workers. Susan Collins, R-Maine, made the case during a floor speech earlier this week, arguing Biden’s "expensive entitlement programs" will "break the connection between work and a brighter future."
"We will not build a more prosperous, just and equitable society characterized by opportunity, dignity and meaning just by issuing government checks," Collins said. "The time-tested way to achieve those goals for American families is by supporting and rewarding work. It is by recognizing the dignity of work."
In a recent op-ed, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., argued the $3.5 trillion spending bill would result in "the further fraying of our social fabric," with negative consequences for American workers and small businesses alike.
"The proposal would eliminate the child tax credit as we know it, replacing it with welfare without any work requirement," McCarthy wrote. "Republicans believe the family is the foundation of a strong society, which is why we have supported expanding the child tax credit in the past. But we also know work establishes purpose, and there is no government substitute for a job and an earned income."
Sen. Marco Rubio took aim at the Democrat-backed child tax credit program in June, just weeks before the first monthly payments were dispersed. The spending bill would extend the payments for an additional four years. Biden and other Democrats have called for them to be made permanent.
"Despite Democrats’ claims, this is not a pro-family plan," Rubio wrote in June. "It would re-create the failed welfare system that President Clinton and then-Sen. Biden opposed in the 1990s, when there was a bipartisan consensus that the goal of welfare should be to encourage work and marriage rather than dependency."
Republicans universally opposed Biden’s "Build Back Better" plan, prompting Democrats to move forward with budget reconciliation. With a razor-thin majority in Congress, Democrats need to stay united to pass the legislation by a simple majority vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a key moderate, has joined Republicans in arguing monthly child tax credit payments should carry a work requirement to incentivize parents to participate in the economy.
Earlier this week, Manchin drew criticism after he said he was "concerned about entitlement mentality versus rewarding mentality" when considering Biden’s spending bill.
"Proposing a historic expansion of social programs while ignoring the fact we are not in a recession and that millions of jobs remain open will only feed a dysfunction that could weaken our economic recovery," Manchin added in a statement Wednesday.
Biden has struggled to reach an agreement that satisfies both progressives and moderates on legislation that he touted earlier this month as an investment "in America’s future."
"These are long-term prosperity we’re talking about — about lowering the cost of living for families, creating millions of good-paying jobs for hardworking Americans," Biden said on Sept. 3. "It’s about helping more people to work by helping ease the burden that parents bear, especially mothers, keeping them out of the job market."
The criticism from Republicans and some moderates within their own party has done little to dissuade progressives who have called for the $3.5 trillion spending plan to pass Congress intact. Several far-left lawmakers have warned they will not vote in favor of the slimmer $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal focused on physical projects unless the Senate first passes the budget bill.
Progressives say the full slate of programs included in Biden’s spending bill, including social initiatives as well as affordable housing and expanded health care, are necessary to help struggling families.
"Moving forward without the Build Back Better Act would put long-overdue investments in child care, paid leave, health care, affordable housing, pre-k, community college, climate action, and a roadmap to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS recipients, and essential workers at risk," the House Progressive Caucus said in a statement earlier this week.