It’s great stuff. Like free pre-school and two years of tuition-free community college for, well, everyone. There aren’t even quibbles among Democrats about the necessity of this. “Infrastructure’s about roads and bridges, but it’s about the other things we need to have a fully engaged and active work force,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, reflecting Democrats’ thinking. “That means child care for parents. It means early childhood education, giving our kids the right start. And that means post-high school education or training. That’s what it’s going to take in the 21st century.” It’s an investment in the future that is as much a part of infrastructure as lead-free drinking water systems.
Universal free education is absolutely foundational to the U.S. as a country, even predating the revolution. In 1635, Boston Latin School was founded as the first public school providing free education to everyone—as long as they were male, that is. It’s still going, by the way, but now also educates girls, grades 7-12. The whole nation reembracing that is simply good, and so is adding free education after grade 12.
It’s such a good idea even the Third Way likes it. “Both of these are huge investments and recalibrations,” said Lanae Erickson, the senior vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, taking time out from warning Democrats about the dangers of the deficit. “It’s an acknowledgment that we end up sending our kids most in need to the most under-resourced institutions, and this fundamentally recognizes that’s not fair or good policy.” James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, calls it “creating a ladder into the middle class.”
Speaking of the middle class, the reconciliation bill is intended to both help grow it and to protect it. Consider the expansion of home and community-based health care. That’s providing living-wage jobs to the carers, and improving the lives of millions of senior and disabled people who will be better served living in their own homes and communities. Speaking of this community, those on Medicare would get dental, vision, and hearing benefits in the program for the first time.
In addition, the plan is likely to include a Medicaid expansion proposal to get around the refusal by state Republican lawmakers to expand the program, leaving some 4 million low-income Americans uninsured. How they’ll do that isn’t absolutely clear right now, but Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, have proposed a completely federally run Medicaid-like plan offered in the holdout states. At the same time, it would boost incentives for the states to move forward with expansion.
This idea is gaining in urgency, with the findings of a new study showing just how dire the burden of medical debt is for Americans—totaling $140 billion. Not surprisingly, medical debts are the largest in the holdout states. In 2018, the study in JAMA finds, collection agencies were holding that $140 billion in unpaid medical bills from 18% of the American public—yes, nearly 1/5 of the population has medical debts in collection. That’s up from $81 billion in 2016. It’s also not counting the debt owed to providers that hasn’t gone to collection.
“If you think about Americans getting phone calls, letters and knocks on the door from debt collectors, more often than not it’s because of the U.S. health care system,” Neale Mahoney, a health economist at Stanford University study author, said. “In 2018, Americans living in states that did not expand Medicaid owed an average of $375 more than those in states that participated in the program, roughly a 30 percent increase from the gap that existed the year before enactment,” the study found. Even more dire: in the lowest-income zip codes studied, the average amount owed was $677, as opposed to $126 in the highest-income zip codes they looked at. This debt is ruining people’s credit ratings, keeping them scrambling to make ends meet. Expanding Medicaid is a way to at least stop this debt accumulation for millions of people.
The growing of the middle class—and helping to save the globe—is in this reconciliation package, too. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday that the bill will include a climate jobs proposal called the Civilian Climate Corps. “Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to confront the climate crisis and create millions of permanent good-paying union jobs,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “It’s a great opportunity to combine those things.” More than 80 House and Senate Democrats have pushed for the inclusion of the new CCC in the bill, writing to Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi that the program’s goals “are to provide employment opportunities; invest in natural climate solutions, clean energy, and resilience; and address environmental justice through locally-led, science-based projects.”
The group of lawmakers say that the program, based on FDR’s depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, would create jobs for people planting trees; dealing with the 65% of all voters support the idea.
All of this is popular with American voters. The latest CBS News/You Gov survey, just released, shows solid approval for the proposal overall—59% support to 41% disapproval—but massive support for the individual components of it; 87% approving more federal spending on hard infrastructure; 73% of support expanding rural broadband; and 71% support more spending on child and elder care. It is smart policy and smart politics. And might actually just end up helping to save everything.