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New deal sustainable?

Forget about the Green New Deal. In recent weeks, President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have paved the way for a revamping of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original New Deal. Action taken as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package might mean the federal government is expanding what advocates call the social safety net.

For millions of families, it seems like a wonderful thing. Food and housing help, even more avenues for getting government health coverage, rental and mortgage assistance, help with food security, expansion of unemployment benefits, changes in tax law and even direct payments to families — it is truly a broad-reaching effort at a time when Americans are struggling.

Biden called it “rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation, working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance.”

A fighting chance would involve improved education and training opportunities; better economic diversity — more employers, with more kinds of jobs; a renewed effort for social justice that does not pit communities against one another, not increased dependence on federal government.

How do we sustain that? How do we pay for it? How much will our already bloated bureaucracy grow to accommodate it?

And where are the measures to ensure families and communities struggling with poverty are actually getting a hand up, rather than a handout?

Lawmakers knew what they were doing. The people were crying out for help, and they got it. Now, “getting something out of the code is often times harder than getting something into the code,” as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., put it. He was referring specifically to expansion of the child tax credit, but it applies in a larger sense. Congress does not do a very good job of unbaking cakes.

Conservatives and moderates in Washington, D.C., who know better than to let the federal government bite off more than the people can chew, will have their work cut out for them as they try to keep this new New Deal in check.

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