“We’re in a national emergency,” President Biden says
President Biden and Vice President Harris have said we are in a national emergency and must act accordingly. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

“We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency.” President Biden declared on Jan. 22. As he signed a flurry of sweeping executive orders. “Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted.”

The orders increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunch assistance, require federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and extend moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. For millions, these are life and death questions.

According to Feeding America, 50 million Americans, including 17 million children, experienced food insecurity in 2020. Food pantries are overwhelmed everywhere. In Houston, demand at food pantries doubled from 2019. Cars line up for food at 1 a.m. at NRG Stadium, home to the Houston Texans NFL football team.

“I want to be very clear: These (executive) actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief,” said Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council. “But they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of American families.”

Biden has signed over 45 executive orders since assuming office, signaling a swift and dramatic reversal of Trump policies across the breadth of the government. Biden is jump-starting the government after four years of Trump and GOP inaction, sabotage, and incompetence. The orders are just a beginning, and, as Deese warns, without decisive and massive action, the U.S. economy will fall into a “deep hole.”

Biden rightly says the country faces multiple emergencies, including the pandemic, economic, climate, and racial justice crises. Leading economists, business circles, and city and state governments all support going big and comprehensive with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) to meet the crisis scale. Every element of the plan is essential, and dropping one part or drastically paring back, as does a $600 billion alternative plan by so-called GOP “moderates,” defeats the purpose and is a non-starter.

The ARP is popular, supported by 69% of voters, including 40% of GOP voters. The passage should be a no brainer, but there are no assurances with the U.S. Senate Democratic majority hanging by a thread and the GOP closing ranks in obstruction.

Biden and the Democrats understand successful governing requires going big and are preparing to pass the ARP via budget reconciliation. The GOP’s only goal is power. During the Obama presidency, the GOP conducted scorched earth obstruction to ensure Obama was a “one-term president” and to win the 2010 Congressional elections. Now, as then, they expect voters to blame Biden and the Democrats for inadequately dealing with the crisis and deliver GOP congressional majorities in 2022 and the White House in 2024.

The GOP has been on a trajectory toward a fascist party, gutting government programs for the common good, undermining trust in government, science, and media for over 40 years, reaching a zenith under Trump. The GOP has no solutions beyond deregulating market forces, starving people back to work, tax cuts to the rich, and overturning elections through insurrection. Under these circumstances “bi-partisanship” is impossible.

But blocking aid from getting to millions of desperate people is immoral and an Achilles heel for the GOP. It corresponds with their attack on democracy and elections, blocking the government’s ability to function and the majority’s will.

Building on historic victories

The election of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate from Georgia were historic victories. Passage of the ARP and Biden’s legislative agenda is both a defense of that victory and continuation of the same fight. Ensuring its passage and creating the grounds to go even further requires the same energy and mobilization the broad democratic people’s movement brought to the 2020 elections and Georgia special election.

If the ARP passes, millions benefit immediately, including many white working-class voters who supported Trump and are in dire straits. Trump and the GOP shamefully manipulated millions into voting against their self-interests through fear, racism, and outright lies. The economic rescue package is an essential first step in breaking the Trumpist hold on these voters and creates opportunities to build multi-racial unity around other issues.

The Biden administration is moving on bold economic relief while moving simultaneously on racial justice, immigration reform, and the climate crisis, issues upon which moderate Democrats have often hesitated in the past. However, times have changed, the multiple crises and their solutions are intersecting, and Biden executive orders establish an orientation with the potential for broader national unity.

The momentum gained from people-centered policies on Covid-19, economic rescue, and governing in a way that impacts people’s lives can carry forward to new fights. They include a massive job and green infrastructure act, the “For the People Act” to reform voting rights and campaign finance laws, D.C. Statehood, sweeping Immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and the “Pro-Act” to make it easier to organize unions.

A victory for the ARP and its implementation can also create support to end the undemocratic filibuster (a relic of Jim Crow) that will sink every other part of Biden’s agenda not related to budgeting. People want action and are not interested in the “niceties” of Senate “deliberation and consensus” that the GOP is hiding behind to block the Biden agenda.

Presently, at least two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) oppose ending the filibuster. However, Manchin’s initial opposition to the $1,400 stimulus checks caused a storm of protest across West Virginia, a state with one of the highest poverty rates, which forced him to back down.

Passage of the ARP and its rapid implementation can put the GOP and its obstruction on the defensive and weaken fascist networks. And Biden and the Democrats can extend influence among Trump and GOP voters and open the door for more comprehensive people-centered policies.

On the other hand, blocking Biden’s legislative agenda will only encourage the fascist movement embraced by the GOP, threaten Democratic congressional majorities, and give the next coup the green light.

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.