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White House Adviser Says Biden Will Keep Pushing For 'Human Infrastructure Bill,' Too

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you're the parent of a child 17 or younger, the Biden White House wants you to know that you may qualify for the child tax credit. Payments for eligible families start next month. It's another feature of the American Rescue Plan, and it increases the existing child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for kids 6 to 17. And it's $3,600 for kids under the age of 6. Heather Boushey is a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. She joins us now to talk more about this credit.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

HEATHER BOUSHEY: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with you, Audie.

CORNISH: Your position is to give economic advice.

BOUSHEY: Yep.

CORNISH: So is this the right economic move for the country in this moment, when people are looking at issues like inflation?

BOUSHEY: I think it is certainly the right step for this particular moment. Families were hit hard over the past year. And so especially families in the bottom half of the income distribution, many of them had to spend their savings down, or they lost a job, or they lost a loved one or a family member. This benefit is going to help them recover from that, and it's going to help make sure that especially families with children have what they need. Now, we are seeing these blips in inflation. We're seeing prices go up for some goods in our economy. But the signs at this point really do point to that being temporary. And giving families this extra support, this extra income, and making sure that it's available to them month to month, it's going to help family budgets in a real and important way.

CORNISH: I want to ask if this is part of the broader move by the Biden White House to kind of rebuild the middle class. And how much are you willing to push or sacrifice in terms of your other goals to make these kinds of policies long-term or permanent?

BOUSHEY: Well, the president has been very, very clear that he has a series of priorities that are going to improve wages and job opportunities for the middle class and for people to get in and stay in the middle class. The child tax credit is a piece of that puzzle, but so are policies like expanded access to child care and universal - access to universal prekindergarten or things like paid family leave.

CORNISH: But you could see why I would ask - right? - because it's like, well, if that depends on Congress - and then I look at the way Congress is cooperating with you right now; for instance, the infrastructure bill not going anywhere, really - what does that mean for these goals?

BOUSHEY: Well, I would beg to differ on the infrastructure bill. We'll see where it lands. But, certainly, there has been progress and movement on this bipartisan piece. And then, of course, both the House and the Senate leadership have now put out their plans for a budget proposal for the next year that includes this additional spending and these additional really important benefits that are going to help grow and sustain America's middle class. The American people have been through a really rough year. They've also experienced, you know, an economy that hasn't been delivering for far too many for far too long. And the president is committed to working to reverse those trends.

CORNISH: You've got a bipartisan group of senators who are coming up with their own proposal. We're still waiting for those specifics, but it could very well be mostly physical infrastructure, and that would leave behind a huge part of the plan, trying to get momentum for a second bill focused on so-called human infrastructure. Are we witnessing this thing kind of have diminishing returns for your original goals?

BOUSHEY: I remain optimistic that the answer to your question is no. So let me lay this out for you. The president has a big, bold vision. He laid it out in two separate packages. But the important thing is that Congress is working simultaneously to work on this bipartisan bill to get that physical infrastructure, and Congress is also simultaneously working on putting together the package that will address many of the other human sides of the equation and address some of the really important, pressing climate change issues that are coming down the pipeline. So I see both of those happening. And, you know, the president has remained committed to that whole package.

CORNISH: There is a lot of support, and Democratic support, for the bipartisan alternative. And you have Democrats - for example, Senator Tim Kaine - suggesting that support for this bill - if the other things like child care and home care are put through the reconciliation process, are you concerned that you'll kind of lose momentum - right? - even among Democrats once it gets into the nitty-gritty of that kind of passage?

BOUSHEY: Well, I think, at this point, we're seeing a lot of folks really focused on what truly matters, which is that we need to enact policies that help and support working families.

CORNISH: I know that you need to enact (laughter). I know that's what you want to do.

BOUSHEY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: What is it you feel like you can do? And are there one or two specific things that you feel like are worth fighting for?

BOUSHEY: Well, honestly, Audie, I mean, there is a lot on this list that I think is definitely worth fighting for. I mean, today we're talking about the child tax credit, but the supports for working families and making sure that the people that support those working families have good jobs - that is worth fighting for. And that requires that we push on a bunch of different aspects of our economy. We make sure that we have labor standards, and we make sure that we're investing in American industry and in the kinds of jobs of the future, both on climate and on care. So I see a lot of focus on that right now, and I'm less worried about losing momentum. And I think that what we're seeing is that there is so much momentum behind this agenda. It's getting Congress to move quickly. But, you know, you see it in poll after poll that these are really policies that have the support of the majority of the American people. We do have a lot of momentum there. It's just, can we keep it going? Can we keep it - can we move that?

CORNISH: That's Heather Boushey, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Thank you for hashing this out with us.

BOUSHEY: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.