In 1932 and 1964, Democrats won smashing election victories, giving the party not only a president with a strong mandate, but huge majorities in both houses of Congress. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson used these mandates to establish safety-net programs for the poor and elderly.
FDR’s New Deal passed Social Security, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and other programs for those on the lowest rungs. Johnson’s Great Society, meanwhile, considerably enlarged that net with such programs as food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare. As with the New Deal programs, these were intended to help the poor, not the middle class.
My, how times have changed.
In 2020, Joe Biden narrowly won the presidency. The Democratic Party saw its House majority narrowed to a mere four votes, while it has a majority in the Senate only because Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, can break tie votes.
Yet despite this razor-thin mandate, the Democrats are proposing a vast enlargement of entitlements that would be aimed not at the poor, but at the middle class. It would change this country forever — and not for the better.
According to one analysis, if this program is enacted, 57 percent of two-parent families would be receiving benefits, while fully 80 percent of single-parent households would be receiving government assistance.
Some programs wouldn’t even be income-limited. The bill proposes that community colleges be tuition free for all. And everyone could take three months’ leave from their jobs, at government expense, to deal with a new baby or a family illness.
Others would reach far into the middle class. Two-parent households with two children and up to $130,000 in income would be eligible for federal assistance in paying for day care. Some families with incomes as high as $200,000 would be eligible for subsidies to pay for health insurance.
If there is anything we know about projected costs for assistance programs, it is that they are always underestimated. Partly, this is due to the difficulties of making such estimates; partly, it is because politicians always low-ball future costs to pass their bills.
In 1965, for instance, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare costs in 1990 would be a mere $9 billion. They actually came in at $67 billion. (In 2019, Medicare cost $644 billion, 14 percent of total federal spending that year.)
The projections being presented for the American Families Plan not only low-ball future costs — they all but lie about them. For instance, the framers note that the child-tax-credit part of the program will end in 2025, and thus will only cost $449 billion over the 10-year budget projection. Under Senate rules, this means the program can be passed under “reconciliation” and would need only 51 votes.
But this is just a cynical ploy to avoid having to overcome a filibuster. Everyone knows that once enacted, the political pressure to make the child tax credit permanent will be impossible to resist. Its true cost will be more than $1 trillion over the 10-year budget window.
Perhaps the biggest lie is how this huge new entitlement program would be paid for. The late Sen. Russell Long said that the art of taxation is: “Don’t tax you and don’t tax me. Tax that man behind the tree.” The man behind the tree in Washington is always “the rich.”
Biden has said that no one earning under $400,000 will pay more in taxes to fund the expansion of the welfare state. But the government could confiscate the incomes of the country’s top 1 percent and not come close to paying for the American Families Plan. The vast American middle class is where the money is.
The true purpose of the American Families Plan isn’t to assist those in need. It is to ensnare the middle class into becoming dependent on government and thus voters for the Democratic Party.
Sixty years ago, President John Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” President Biden is saying, “Hey, look what your country can do for you!” It’s a depressing measure of how far the Democratic Party has fallen.
John Steele Gordon writes for Commentary.