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American Families Plan aims to ‘shore up America’s middle class,’ White House adviser says

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden is expected to touch on his ambitious plans for the country. One of those plans is his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. Heather Boushey is a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what the plan is, and what it hopes to achieve for American families.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of what you have just been hearing, Heather Boushey is a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

    I spoke with her a short time ago about the president's American Families Plan.

    Heather Boushey, thank you very much for joining us.

    Let me start by saying, the White House is describing both of these plans as once-in-a-generation investments in America's future. Practically speaking, what does that mean?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, these are significant investments in building, deepening, growing America's middle class, through making sure that, in the first package, that we're investing in all that physical infrastructure and innovation and the things that are going to drive industry forward, to the plan that the president will talk about tonight.

    That it's about making sure that families have the economic security that they need, that we're investing in the kinds of educational opportunities that families need, and that we're making sure we have a tax system that is fair, that it rewards work and not wealth, and supports families at the bottom and makes sure that those at the top pay their fair share.

    So, there will be real changes for families as a result of these plans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let me ask you about one particularly interesting aspect of this, and that is adding four more years of free schooling for American children and young people, two more years preschool, two years of community college.

    What — explain what the rationale there is.

  • Heather Boushey:

    We know, in this economy, that education and skills are so important.

    You know, over a century ago, the United States is the leader in investing in primary and secondary school for everyone. And now we need to catch up and regain that leadership role in making sure that we are investing in education along all of the years that children need, so starting with preschool.

    We know there is so much empirical research that shows that those years from zero to 5 are so important. Pre-K is a really important piece of our educational system. Every child needs it. And then, of course, we know that high school isn't enough. People need access to college, and providing that free two years of community college is going to put a lot of kids on the right path.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned taxes. And the president is proposing tax increases on the wealthy.

    And I want to ask you about that, because the price tag, when you put these two plans together, the jobs and infrastructure plans with the Families Plan, something like $3.8 trillion, almost $4 trillion.

    Lay out what the president's thinking is on why — on who should pay for it and why.

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, the president has been very clear throughout the campaign and into governing that the taxes should be raised on those making more than $400,000. People making less should not pay more.

    And in both this plan and the one he announced last month, one of the focuses is on making sure that the tax system delivers. So, one of the things he is going to talk about tonight is tax compliance.

    You know, we have systemically reduced the amount of resources available to the IRS to simply enforce the laws on the book. So he is going to make sure that we are giving the IRS the resources they need to enforce the tax code, and focus on those at the very, very top, who too often don't report their income. And that means that the federal government loses billions and billions, hundreds of billions of dollars.

    We estimate we can get about $700 billion simply by enforcing the laws on the books.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you won't be surprised to know that criticism is already coming in from both the right and the left.

    But, from Republicans, let may just read you one comment. This is from Kevin Brady. He's the ranking Republican on the House — very critically important House Ways and Means Committee.

    He said earlier this week, when he was starting to get the outlines of this, he said: "You don't rebuild a healthy economy by punishing those who invest in that economy."

    So, what do you say to that particular criticism?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, what I say is that we need to make sure we're taking the steps to shore up America's middle class.

    And we need to do so by making sure those at the top are paying their fair share. We have seen over the past decade that wealth has risen, especially and particularly for those at the very, very top. We have seen a lot of companies be incredibly profitable.

    And yet too many firms at the very top of the American economy don't pay any taxes. So, we need to make sure that those that have benefited the most pay their fair share, so that we can make those investments that benefit us all.

    You know, about a third of rural families don't have access to broadband. Over the past year, could you imagine not having access to the Internet during this time of COVID? Or think about the fact that so many families live with water that comes into their home that has lead in it. We know that there's no safe amount of lead for children.

    These are the kinds of investment in infrastructure we need to make. And we need to make these investments in our children, in education and in childcare. So we need to make sure that folks at the top pay their fair share and that we focus on doing what's right for the American people and the American economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as I mentioned, you also have comments coming in from Democrats, a number of them saying there's just not enough in here, for example, for preschool, for other programs they wanted.

    Senator Bernie Sanders is saying he — there should have been money in here to expand Medicare. The age of eligibility should have been lowered to 60. And he says, if he has anything to do with it, that will be in the bill.

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, here's the thing.

    The president has laid out this vision and these plans, and now they are over on Capitol Hill. And he has said time and time again that his door is open. He wants to hear from folks on both sides of the aisle who have good ideas. And it's up to Congress to actually sort of package and pass these plans.

    So, if Bernie Sanders wants to add something, that's something he can do. But here's the thing. As the president has made clear, and I, as an economist, just see each and every day, inaction is not an option. We need to address these pressing needs across our economy, so that we can see innovation, growth, good jobs across all parts of our economy, so we can deal with racial inequities, so we can make sure that moms can get back to work because they have childcare.

    We need to do those things. And so the urgency is on Congress to figure out how to do it and to come together and find something that will pass and can get to the president's desk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Heather Boushey, who is a member of President Biden's Council of Economic Advisers, thank you very much.

  • Heather Boushey:

    Thank you, Judy.

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