President Joe Biden, and Democrats across the country, ran for election on the promise of delivering emergency COVID-19 relief. President Biden released his vision for that relief immediately on inauguration day, calling it the American Rescue Plan (ARP). It was then up to Congress to write that plan into legislation and pass it through both chambers for the president to sign. And it was up to all of us to make sure the package delivered relief that would meet the scale of the crises and make sure that Democrats did not waste time or negotiate away necessary provisions because of Republican obstructionism.
Read on to learn what is actually in the bill, what opportunities were missed along the way, and how your MoC voted - plus how to do the important work of thanking them or holding them accountable if they opposed this urgently needed relief!
What is in the American Rescue Plan?
The American Rescue Plan is a groundbreaking $1.9 trillion dollar package that includes a host of provisions to get the pandemic under control, help families and communities facing economic hardship, and lay the groundwork for an equitable recovery. It is significantly bolder than the response to the Great Recession in 2009, an encouraging sign that many Democrats have learned critical lessons from the failures of the early Obama years. Here are some of the highlights:
- $1,400 direct checks for every adult citizen and all dependents, phasing out above $75k annual income (or $150k for joint filers), nearly 90% of Americans. Unlike previous bills, there's no "marriage penalty" or "family penalty" denying citizens relief because they have immigrants/ITIN filers in their families.
- Extended enhanced unemployment insurance until September 6th, including $300 a week in additional benefits and extending the program for independent contractors and small business owners. Taxes on the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits will also be waived;
- More than $50 billion for vaccines, testing, contact tracing, and personal protective equipment to finally put an end to the pandemic;
- Expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) which will cut child poverty in HALF by providing families $3,600 for every child under age 6 and $3,000 for children age 6-17. For the first time, lowest income parents will receive the benefit, even if they don’t owe taxes, and it will be delivered monthly starting in July, instead of just at tax time;
- $350 billion for state and local governments to plug the budget holes caused by the pandemic and help them continue to offer services like testing and vaccination sites;
- $178 billion for schools to help all schools reopen safely;
- Increased Affordable Care Act subsidies and subsidies for COBRA so folks purchasing health coverage on the exchanges or who have lost their employer sponsored insurance can more easily afford coverage;
- Funding for rent and mortgage assistance, nutrition benefits, small businesses especially bars and restaurants, child care, farm aid, and more!
Democrats did miss some opportunities for progressive wins
Democrats were correct to pursue a legislative path that only required a simple majority in the Senate to prevent endless obstruction from Republicans who would have filibustered the relief package using the 60-vote threshold of the filibuster. However, instead of simply getting rid of the filibuster, Democrats opted to use the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority but also sets arbitrary limits on the size and scope of the legislation.
Budget reconciliation pits necessary policies against each other, and entirely leaves out key policies. For example, as House Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee were drafting their portion of the bill, they were running over the arbitrary cost limit they had to work with, so they cut off a month of extended unemployment benefits, a move that obviously harms those who have lost their jobs and deserve support. Another example is the $15 an hour minimum wage, a policy that Biden included in his plan and even made it through the House thanks to progressives sticking together. But the Senate parliamentarian decided that provision did not qualify for budget reconciliation, and it was stripped from the package.
It is clear that simply eliminating the filibuster would have allowed for a stronger package that could have fulfilled Biden’s promises and delivered more comprehensive relief to the American people.
How did your MoCs vote on this bill?
The Good: Every Democrat in the Senate voted for the final bill, as did all but one Democrat in the House! With slim majorities in both chambers it’s crucial that Democrats stick together to pass a bold agenda, rather than getting cold feet.
The Bad: 8 Senate Democrats voted against including a $15 an hour minimum wage, and Sen. Joe Manchin insisted on cuts to the unemployment benefits in the bill. It is beyond frustrating that Democrats would work to make legislation worse and do less to improve people’s lives.
The Ugly: As expected, not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for this bill. Not a single republican voted for vaccine distribution, for safe school reopening, for $1,400 checks, for supporting childcare, or for preventing cuts to state and local services.
Instead of working to provide more support for families and communities that are struggling, the GOP spent their time offering hateful amendments to demonize immigrants and attack transgender youth.
All but one Senate Republican, Sen. Murkowski (R-AK), and even one Democrat, Sen. Manchin (D-WV), voted for a despicable amendment that would have furthered the GOP’s efforts to push trans people out of public life. In this case it would have barred trans girls from engaging in school sports, a policy that is wrong and dangerous.
Every Senate Republican voted for multiple amendments designed to stoke fears about immigrants, exclude mixed status families from receiving needed survival checks, and punish sanctuary cities that protect their communities from inhumane immigration policies.
Republicans made it clear early on that they opposed the type of relief that would meet the scale of the crisis, and consistently obstructed and attempted to water down the package. It is imperative that President Biden and Democrats in Congress understand that unless they want to squander this trifecta and risk losing our democracy, they have to act boldly and not cater to obstructionist Republicans.
What do we do now?
Follow up with your MoC to tell them what you thought of how they chose to act. While it can be tempting to move on to the thing after a bill has passed, it’s critical to finish the process by making sure to thank MoCs who did the right thing, and express frustration, disappointment, anger, even outrage, to the MoCs who failed to vote for the relief people desperately need.
Thanking MoCs helps create a virtuous cycle where they’re more likely to push for progressive amendments, or avoid defecting if they’re more moderate, in the future. And making sure that your Republican MoCs know that you’re watching, and that you aren’t giving them a shred of credit, for any of the good provisions in this package, is critical too! We’re already seeing Republicans trying to take credit for a bill they voted against, so we need to remind them that we’re not falling for it, and that we demand better next time.
Thank your MoCs who supported the American Rescue Plan!
Sample call or email script:
Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am from [CITY/STATE]. I’m calling Rep./Sen. [MOC NAME] to thank them for their support of the American Rescue Plan. The COVID pandemic is an emergency, and I’m grateful that Congress is finally taking a big step towards ending the pandemic and supporting struggling families. I am outraged that every Republican voted against this bill, and I won’t forget their obstruction during this crisis. I urge [MOC NAME] to continue to act boldly, and not let Republicans put a stop to the entire progressive agenda.
Express your frustration to your MoCs who voted against the American Rescue Plan!
Sample call or email script:
Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am from [CITY/STATE]. I’m calling [MOC NAME] to share my outrage that they voted against the American Rescue Plan. The COVID pandemic is an emergency, and it’s unbelievable that they would oppose needed relief and instead spent their time obstructing and supporting harmful amendments. I am glad the American Rescue Plan passed, despite their “no” vote. I urge [MOC NAME] stop playing politics with people’s lives and livelihoods, and finally put your constituents first.