President-Elect Job Biden’s campaign slogan was “build back better.”
It’s probably more than just a slogan, for I believe that he truly wants to rebuild the nation in a way that benefits everyone. But I wonder if he realizes how multidimensional and how long the process will be. There’s going to be a lot of push from the Progressive wing of his party to push through legislation, during his first 100 days, existing legislation that’s been stalled in the Senate, and to initiate new legislation that has long captured the imagination of the most liberal members of his party. Beyond that, we’re going to have to address some structural problems that warp incentives, real investment, and in the end, the nation’s ability to function efficiently and equitably.
In terms of fixes that should be pursued within the first 100 days, the most obvious economic issue is the minimum wage. Earlier this year, House Democrats approved legislation to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, to $15 an hour, and increases the pay for some 30 million low-wage workers. More important, it would index the minimum wage to the inflation rate, guaranteeing workers annual pay increases thus allowing them to share in the nation’s productivity increases.
The biggest factor contributing to poverty is simply a lack of income. Indexing Social Security reduced poverty among seniors from 30 percent, the highest among all demographic groups, to 9 percent, making senior poverty the lowest among all demographic groups. Indexing the minimum wage would have a similar impact on the nation’s poverty rate.
Another economic measure that should be pursued is a prohibition on employers from asking about a prospective employee’ salaries, forbid retaliation against employees who compare wages and mandate employers show that pay discrepancies are based on legitimate factors. Women would be the biggest beneficiaries of this type of legislation. Women who, on average, are better educated than men, earn only 75 percent of that earned by similarly educated men. With percentage earned by women of color far less.
The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for access to health care, and in the US, access depends upon financial ability to afford care. The Biden administration should prioritize legislation that seeks to lower prescription drug prices, and an increase in subsides for the Affordable Care Act. But we need more than half steps when it comes to controlling drug costs. We need to give the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services the authority to negotiate drug prices.
But, “build back better” is more than just policies that have an economic impact. Passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would require that any state with a history of voting discrimination within the past 25 years seek federal approval before making any changes to its voting procedures. For the People Act would require states to provide an online option for voter registration and allow voters to register the same day they go to the polls. To protect elections from any foreign meddling, the bill mandates that states use paper ballots and that the Department of Homeland Security evaluate threats to election systems 180 days prior to an election and inform states of their conclusions.
Beyond economics and politics, the Biden administration is going to have to make an effort to expand the scope of civil rights for various groups. The Equality Act, seeks to provide comprehensive anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in employment, education, federal funding, housing, public accommodations and more.
The American Dream and Promise Act would protect young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, (known as Dreamers) and establish a path to citizenship for more than two million immigrants without legal status. The bill would grant permanent residency with a path to citizenship to more than two million immigrants who fall into three categories: Dreamers and some recipients of the temporary protected status and deferred enforced departure programs.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which seeks to expand background check requirements on private sales, including those at gun shows, on the internet or through classified ads, and The Violence Against Women Act provides funding and grants for several programs that tackle domestic abuse and includes an expansion of a prohibition against firearm purchases for spouses or formerly married partners convicted of abuse.
Could all of these suggestions make it to the President’s desk within the first 100 days? Yes, because each one has already been passed in the House, they simply need Senate confirmation. Whether it will happen or not depends on the Georgia Senate elections being held next week. We have a President who wants to affect real change, now we just need a Senate who shares the same vision.