Here’s the deal: President-elect Joe Biden announces a Covid relief bill he intends to send to Congress.

Build Back Better Comes Next.

There are a few different Covid-19 vaccines being administered right now, and some of them require two shots. A two-shot vaccination course is what Joe Biden just completed. I heard it on the radio a few days ago that he got the booster, and so after a month in his system his immunity should be good to go. My mom is getting her first one in a few weeks.  

This is a good metaphor for the economic policy proposals the president-elect talked about tonight, six days before he takes office and can officially start trying to get them through Congress. The American economy is sick. And with Democrats now in control of the Senate, the incoming Biden administration is delivering its economic medicine in two doses.

The first of them the president-elect announced tonight: Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion bill meant to speed up the national coronavirus vaccination program, boost testing capacity and provide direct economic relief to people. Over $1 trillion of the total bill is relief, including $1,400 checks for qualifying households.

That’s all well and good. There will be no economic recovery until the coronavirus, which is currently killing 4,000 Americans a day, is brought under control; an effective vaccination scheme and ramped-up testing will help do that. And lots of people are broke and jobless and desperately need money; the government should give it to them.

But the economy will still be sick. Even after everybody’s vaccinated, millions of people will still be jobless in a job market reorganized by months of pandemic closures. And that’s only one of the emergencies the country immediately faces. There’s the reality of climate change that demands a shift toward clean energy sources; there are the swaths of the country that have been left economically moribund by decades of de-industrialization; there’s our shared public infrastructure that’s falling apart; and there’s our new realization, made clear by the last few months of national public health crisis, that we don’t have the production capacity to make suddenly critical things quickly. Things like facemasks.

These are the issues the second Biden shot is expected to address. This is the Build Back Better proposal, the economic stimulus package he campaigned on, and the one the Alliance for American Manufacturing is watching for. Axios is reporting it’s likely to be an even bigger bill than the one just proposed. But will it be big enough to be an effective improvement to our well-documented infrastructure problems? Will it include the significant Buy America budgets so that American manufacturers are the ones who will get this work? Will it pass a Congress that is suddenly likely to be full of deficit hawks again?

Biden only mentioned his second proposal briefly, saying he’ll discuss it in detail next month in an address to Congress. For those interested in big, agenda-shaping political speeches, this will be one to watch, even if it’s likely to be a Zoom call.

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