Democrats embrace radical new message: 'Government can function'

Alexander Nazaryan
·National Correspondent
·3 min read

WASHINGTON — “Hope is on the horizon, and help is on the way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a Rose Garden event on Friday celebrating the signing into law of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure that now stands as a major early accomplishment of the Biden administration.

The unambiguous message delivered by Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at Friday’s event was: Government is a force for good. In making that point, the Democratic leaders were not only touting their own achievements but trying to restore trust, which has been dropping steadily for years.

“It’s critical to demonstrate that government can function — can function and deliver prosperity, security and opportunity for the people in this country,” Biden said. The pandemic, Democrats believe, appears to be restoring trust in government. The party wants to build on that confidence, and to use it to achieve at least some of their more ambitious goals.

Joe Biden with Kamala Harris
President Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks about the coronavirus relief package from the White House Rose Garden on Friday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

When he was president, Donald Trump passed coronavirus relief measures of his own, including a $900 billion rescue package in December. The new package deviates from its predecessors in large part because it seeks to address ills that predated the pandemic and will almost certainly outlast it. There is money in the new package to significantly reduce child poverty, help Black farmers and increase the number of people who qualify for health care subsidies.

After the Democrats won both Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia and wrested control of the U.S. Senate from Republicans, they were able to fashion a relief bill that suited their priorities without having to make painful compromises. That doesn’t mean every progressive dream was turned into reality: The $15 federal minimum wage, for example, fell out of the American Rescue Plan after a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian.

Overall, though, Democrats were eager to show Americans that they could work quickly and efficiently to shore up the economy and achieve what they consider important social goals.

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi
Left to right: Vice President Kamala Harris, President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a press conference on the American Rescue Plan on Friday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Promise made, promise fulfilled,” Pelosi said. The message from her and Schumer was clear: When Democrats are in charge, things get done. Whether that holds true as Biden turns to more difficult issues, such as gun control and climate change, remains to be seen.

But for now, the party showed a unified front and reassured Americans that it was singularly focused on rescuing the economy and ending the coronavirus pandemic.

“Help is here, and we will not stop working for you,” Biden said near the end of his remarks, reiterating a few moments later what seemed to be the key point of the afternoon: “Government can function.”

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