The Democratic Congress’ Passage of the American Rescue Plan—A Real “BFD” for President Biden and His Team March 11, 2021
March 23, 2010. Two days after the Democratic House passed the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, then President Obama held a signing of this major bill in the White House’s East Room at a ceremony. At that ceremony, Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, Sister Carol Keehan, a Catholic nun who helped break a logjam over an abortion issue, and VP Joe Biden were some of the individuals in attendance. Biden, with his many years of legislative experience as a Senator, was instrumental in pushing Congressmembers to successfully pass this landmark legislation. After praising Obama, Biden embraced his boss with a hug. As Biden did that, a sensitive microphone picked him up whispering to Obama, “This is a big ‘f king’ deal,” cleaned up by the media with the term, “BFD (See, Cohn, J., “The Ten Year War,” 2021, Witcover, J., “Joe Biden, A Life of Trial and Redemption,” 2019).”
March 10, 2021, nearly 21 years later. Biden is now our nation’s 46th President. In 11/2020, he defeated Donald Trump, the GOP anti-scientist/authoritarian-loving leader who succeeded Obama. In 11/2020, Biden defeated Trump in his 2020 re-election bid by a 336-202 Electoral College majority and by over 7 million popular votes. The key reason for Biden’s victory? Trump went out of his way to ignore the major COVID-19 pandemic that struck the world and U.S. as early as 1/2020. COVID-19 has currently killed more than 529,000 Americans, left millions unemployed, and kept millions of children from personally attending school. Biden, throughout his presidential campaign, promised that he would get COVID-19 vaccinations distributed to millions of Americans, provide them with needed economic relief, and help people return to normal lives.
Less than two months after Biden took office, and on the 50th day of his presidency, Biden delivered on his promise to aid an America stricken by the deadly coronavirus. On 3/06/2021, the U.S. Senate by a 50-49 vote, with one GOPer absent, passed Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus relief bill, the American Rescue Plan. There is a 50-50 Democratic-Republican Senate split. VP Kamala Harris, with her constitutional ability to cast tie-breaking votes, gives the Democrats the narrowest of majorities. This session featured the longest vote in modern Senate history with GOPers putting up many votes that would gut this bill. Moderate Senator Joe Manchin III (D-W.VA) held out his vote until he was able to trim unemployment benefits. After negotiating with President Biden, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and other “Team Blue” Senators, Manchin agreed to the pandemic stimulus deal (nytimes.com, Cochrane, 3/06/21). On 3/10/2021, by a vote of 220-211, the U.S. House passed Biden’s sweeping stimulus measure. As in the Senate, not ONE House GOPer voted for this relief bill. On 3/11/2021 Biden signed this landmark bill and spoke to the nation on that same day about its importance (See nytimes.com, Cochrane, 3/10/21).
As the NY Times noted, the final House vote was the culmination of a swift push by President Biden and Democrats, newly controlling both chambers of Congress and the Oval Office (Cochrane, 3/10/21). This round of COVID-19 relief is one of the most progressive packages ever written into law. It includes $1,400 in stimulus checks for most Americans, extends $300 weekly unemployment benefits into 9/2021, and establishes about $10,000 in tax forgiveness for the jobless. This legislation increases the child tax credit to roughly $3,000, includes $350 billion in state and local government aid, and another $128 billion in funding for schools. The bill includes $46 billion for contact tracing and testing, $25 billion for rental assistance, and $25 billion to help struggling bars and restaurants. In addition, this bill has billions more for vaccines, pandemic supplies and other public health measures. President Biden and the Democratic Congress’ American Rescue Plan would have a huge effect in combating poverty in the U.S. It would potentially cut child poverty in half through a generous expansion of tax credits for low-income Americans with children, increase subsidies for child care, and broaden eligibility under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It also expands food stamps and rental assistance (huffpost.com, Fuller, M. & Golshan, T., 3/10/21, Cochrane, E., nytimes.com, 3/06/21). GOPers repeatedly groused that Biden’s bill was not bipartisan and constituted a “Blue state boondoggle.” House Majority Leader Cong. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) noted that Congress had already passed five COVID-19 relief bills on a bipartisan basis. Hoyer stated, “the only thing that had changed was that the country now had a Democratic president instead of a Republican one, and so I expect zero of you to vote for this (huffpost.com, Fuller & Golshan).” The GOP, as Hoyer rightly expected, put up “goose eggs” for this bill. Despite the GOP complaining that this bill has no bipartisan support, anywhere from 61%-75% of the American public supported this $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, including 59% of Republicans (huffpost.com, Fuller & Golshan, cnn.com, Agiesta, J., 3/10/21).
President Biden is a “quick study.” He learned from what happened in the Obamacare and Obama economic stimulus bill negotiations. Biden now knew that when the GOP presented him with a much smaller COVID relief bill that it was pointless to keep negotiating with them. When Obamacare and Obama’s economic stimulus bills were negotiated, the GOPers kept dragging their feet, putting in all sorts of amendments, and then most of them voted against these major bills. The pared down stimulus bill’s relief took a long time to kick in. Obama was too modest about his stimulus and healthcare achievements and didn’t claim much credit for enacting them. As a result, GOPers repeatedly and falsely trashed “Team Blue,” for their achievements and took back the House and Senate in 2010 and 2014 respectively. President Biden and his fellow congressional Democrats are planning an elaborate effort to promote this massive COVID-19 relief bill throughout the country. They are racing quickly to claim credit for this popular bill and a set of provisions in it that they hope to make permanent in the years to come. They plan to punish GOPers at the polls for failing to support any of this key legislation (nytimes.com, Cochrane, 3/10/21). And unlike Bill Clinton who lost the Democratic House in 1994 because he failed to deliver on health care reform, Biden has delivered on his first major priority (See nytimes.com, Cochrane, 3/10/21, “The System,” Johnson, H. & Broder, D., 1997).
Most analysts are praising the passage of this bill as President Biden’s first major legislative achievement. Despite tweaking by Sen. Manchin, the final legislative package looks remarkably similar to what Biden proposed in Jan., 2021, even before he was inaugurated (See huffpost.com, Fuller & Golshan, 3/10/21). Passage of such a major bill requires not just strong effort on the part of the president. President Biden’s legislative team led by Steve Ricchetti and Louisa Terrell worked tirelessly to get this bill through both Capitol Hill chambers. After this bill passed the Senate, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that both Ricchetti and Terrell “would not be taking anything for granted.” Psaki stated that this team was “picking up the phone, checking in with (House) offices, making sure they (House members) have their questions answered. They’re asking the President, the vice president, Ron Klain (Biden’s Chief-of-Staff), and other senior members of the administration to make calls as needed.” Ricchetti and Terrell had to be sure that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) kept her narrow majority “big tent” party together. Some progressives were upset that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour had been dropped from the bill and Sen. Manchin had trimmed unemployment benefits (cnn. com, 3/08/21, Klein, B., Cochrane, nytimes.com, 3/06/21). Ricchetti and Terrell had to be sure that wacko Cong. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R/QAnon-GA) and several members of the extremist House “Freedumb” Caucus didn’t delay passage of the COVID-19 relief bill (See cnn.com, Nobles, Grayer, & Wilson, 3/08/21). People picked to run a presidential legislative team can’t be inept, if the administration wants to pass its legislative priorities. Meet legislative Biden aces Steve Ricchetti and Louisa Terrell.
Steve Ricchetti currently serves as Counselor to President Joe Biden. Like many of Biden’s top West Wing appointments, Ricchetti was a longtime loyal and trusted Biden lieutenant. He was appointed early in Biden’s presidential transition and has a broad portfolio and senior role within Biden’s administration. Ricchetti holds the same job that Kellyanne Conway had under Trump (nytimes.com, Shear & Glueck, 11/25/20). A native of Westlake, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, Ricchetti graduated from Westlake High School. He received a 1979 undergraduate degree from Miami University of Ohio and a 1979 law degree from VA’s George Mason Law School (cleveland.com, Koff, S., 11/13/16, politico.com, Allen, M.). From 1990-1992, Ricchetti was executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). From 1/1993-2/1996, Ricchetti was Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. He was President Clinton’s principal liaison to the Senate. Ricchetti worked on the Clinton 1993 economic recovery act and other legislation (centeroncongress.org/steve-ricchetti, 4/19/16).
After engaging in private sector lobbying for clients, Ricchetti returned to the Clinton White House where he handled relations with congressional Democrats during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. In 1/1999, Ricchetti became deputy White House Chief of Staff, and in 2000, worked on securing normal trade relations with China (nytimes.com, Pear & Broder, 9/05/00, Kahn, J., nytimes.com, 1/11/00). From 1/2001-3/2012, Ricchetti founded and ran his own lobbying and political consulting firm. It represented clients in communications, banking, health, and pharmaceuticals (Farnam,T.W., washingtonpost.com, 3/05/12).
In 3/2012, Ricchetti was appointed to be counselor to VP Biden. In 12/2013, he became VP Biden’s chief-of-staff with the rank of Assistant to the President (obamawhitehouse.archives, 11/13/13). Ricchetti was the chairman of Biden’s presidential campaign in the 2020 elections and led that campaign’s efforts to raise funds (cnbc.com, 1/13/20). If anyone knows how to lobby Congress and the various personalities in the House and Senate, crucial to passing major legislation, Steve Ricchetti ranks up at the top of that list. His loyalty to Biden is a major factor in his success.
Louisa Terrell, the other key aide in passage of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, similarly, has much experience inside and outside the federal government. A graduate of Tufts University and Boston College Law School, Terrell, like Ricchetti, has very close ties to Biden. Terrell had overseen legislative affairs for the Biden presidential transition team. Terrell was tapped by Biden to become director of his White House legislative affairs office after Biden’s inauguration. Before her role on the Biden transition team, Terrell had worked for eight years on Biden’s Senate staff. She worked in the Obama White House as special assistant to Obama for legislative affairs, and served as executive director of the Biden Foundation. Terrell was U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) first chief-of-staff. She served as an advisor to Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler. In the private sector, Terrell worked for Facebook, Yahoo, and McKinsey. In those companies, she handled federal policy and strategy. Many progressives initially were skeptical of her because of her corporate ties, but Terrell won them over with early and regular outreach. She is known as a good listener. Phil Schiliro, who worked with Terrell as Obama’s director of legislative affairs called Terrell, “incredibly smart, terrific at communicating with the Hill (Congress), and has the trust of Biden because she’s worked with him so long. I can’t think of anyone better (Samuels, “The Hill,” 2/10/21, Lesniewski, 11/20/2021).”
Other very tough battles await the Biden Administration in Congress. However, Biden is off to one strong start with his American Rescue Plan. Again, congratulations, President Biden, Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell, and all their aides!