It would be premature to speculate whether President Joe Biden has won his country’s war against coronavirus in part because of his predecessor’s remarkably insensitive attitude towards suffering and death. The present occupant of the White House has cleared a legislative hurdle on Saturday with the Senate approving the $1.9 trillion relief bill which is aimed at helping Americans deal with the pandemic.
However, it is a reflection of the political rift within the establishment that every Republican senator voted against the measure. The House of Representatives ~ controlled by Mr Biden’s Democrats ~ is expected to approve the Bill when it comes up. Despite the Republican stand, Mr Biden has described the Senate vote as “one more giant step forward” in delivering the promise to help people.
Donald Trump hadn’t even attempted a baby step towards helping the people in a country that has recorded the highest death toll on the first anniversary, so to speak, of the virus. It needs to be underlined that America’s worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, and a current unemployment rate of 6.2 per cent.
The virus, therefore, has ruined both life and livelihood as perhaps nowhere else in the world. President Biden’s relief package envisages one-off payments of $1,400 to be sent to most Americans. Such payments could start being distributed later this month. The Republicans appear to have taken umbrage to the enormous fiscal commitment, saying the plan is too costly. Some Democrats have also criticised certain provisions and the party’s leadership was forced to make a number of compromises, notably the lowering of federal unemployment benefit from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit will be extended till 6 September, according to the terms of the plan.
The Bill takes care of a wide array of public policy, arguably to abide by the Benthamite doctrine of the “greatest good of the greatest number”. The American Rescue Plan, so-called, allocates $350 billion to state and local governments, and some $130 billion to schools. Aside from benefiting quangos and school education ~ in a wasted year ~ the Bill will provide $49 billion for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14 billion for vaccine distribution.
Thus will the fundamentals of the pandemic be taken care of. The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes ~ at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000. Indeed, the extension of jobless benefits until September will mark a major reprieve for millions of “long-term unemployed Americans” whose eligibility for benefits is due to expire in mid-March.
There was a marathon 27-hour session before the final vote on Saturday, and the 50-49 tally along party lines was indicative of the widespread Republican opposition. The even split between the parties in the Senate meant that every Democratic senator needed to support the party’s plans.