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Tom Zirpoli: Build Back Better Act invests in ordinary Americans | COMMENTARY

President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act would invest $3.5 trillion over 10 years to help ordinary Americans, among other things, access better health care, child care, and educational opportunities. It is paid for by reversing some of the tax breaks his predecessor gave to corporations and wealthy Americans. For example, the corporate tax rate would increase from 21 percent to 26 percent, still significantly lower than the 35 percent it was before being slashed to 21 percent by Republicans in 2017.

The act would expand Medicare to include coverage of hearing aids for the elderly, many of whom do without because they simply can’t afford them. Anyone with elderly parents understands the cost and necessity of hearing aids. The legislation also expands coverage of dental and vision services. These are quality of life investments for our parents and grandparents.

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The act provides child care assistance for children ages 0 to 5 years and expands pre-K opportunities for 3- and 4-year-olds. The United States provides free public education for K-12. It is about time that we catch up with the rest of the developed world and provide public education for pre-K — a significant investment in our children — and help working parents who simply can’t afford child care. The pandemic highlighted the importance of available early childhood education and child care to our nation’s economy.

According to Claire Cain Miller, writing for The New York Times, the U.S. is in 18th place among developed nations in government spending on early childhood education with just $500 per child. This compares, for example, to Norway which spends almost $30,000 per child, Iceland ($24,000), and Germany ($18,000).

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The Build Back Better Act, if passed, would allow the U.S. government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare recipients. Republicans made it illegal to negotiate drug prices in order to protect the high profits of pharmaceutical companies. This change would cut prescription drug prices for Americans significantly. We currently pay two to three times as much for prescription medications as other developed nations and this directly impacts the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.

The act provides investments in renewable energy in order to combat climate change, funding for forest management and other measures to control wildfires, and assistance for utility companies to increase their renewable energy investments.

Biden calls these investments in “human infrastructure” as important as investing in new roads and bridges. For the past two decades, we have invested significantly in helping corporations and the wealthy become richer. Between 2007 and 2016, according to Pew Research, the median net worth of the richest 20% of Americans increased by 13% while “the worth of families in lower tiers of wealth decreased by at least 20%.” In 2020 alone, according to USA Today, “America’s 614 billionaires grew their net worth by a collective $931 billion.”

Biden is trying to balance this inequity by helping ordinary Americans with health care, child care, and educational opportunities. And if you don’t think our taxation system has built-in inequities, think about the fact that these 614 billionaires alone could pay about 27% of Biden’s plan with their 2020 wealth increase alone.

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Governing, as they say, is like making sausage. It is messy. Democrats are demonstrating this as negotiations continue between the progressive and moderate elements of the party. This, however, is exactly what good government should be doing — negotiating the best way to help ordinary Americans live fuller and more productive lives.

Republicans don’t govern anymore. When they aren’t trying to block any attempt to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, they are busy trying to stay in power by reducing the opportunities of ordinary Americans to vote.

While Biden is trying to expand Medicare to cover hearing aids for seniors, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York calls any attempts to expand or improve Medicare and Medicaid “Socialist healthcare schemes.” Seriously? Helping seniors buy hearing aids is a socialistic scheme? Perhaps Stefanik doesn’t want seniors in New York to hear how ridiculous she sounds.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called Biden’s legislation “Marxism.” Rubio thinks that improving health care, child care, and education in America is Marxism, yet he has supported every corporate tax cut over his 11-year tenure in the Senate. We know his priorities.

Biden, however, has different priorities. He is not trying to give more tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Instead, he is trying to get them to pay their fair share so that our nation can catch up with the rest of the developed world in providing for our children — all of our children. He’d rather invest in us — ordinary Americans — than those who clearly don’t need more government breaks.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster and his column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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