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File photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta of The Associated Press / Supporters of the Build Back Better Act walk with their placard outside the Capitol in Washington on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.

We are a nation hurting. For nearly two years a pandemic has inflicted deep anxiety, pain and loss. And now, even as our economy recovers, consumers are facing higher prices at the pump, the grocery store, and for home heating.

Fortunately, there are remedies.

The American Rescue Plan passed last spring showed how the government can help people in times of need. Between the stimulus payments and expanded child tax credit, it put thousands of dollars in Americans' pockets to help sustain us in an economy that was shut down.

It worked. This October, consumer spending was up 16% relative to the prior year. Inflation or not, consumers are spending away.

Much of the current rise in inflation is related to supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. These disruptions are global, and the only way to fix them is to get the global pandemic under control. But, in the meantime, the government needs to help Americans cope.

Much of the help delivered in Biden's American Rescue Plan has ended or is set to end by the close of 2021. Thankfully, there is new help in the form of the proposed Build Back Better Act — a huge jobs bill that supports families and workers.

The bill would help millions of Americans get health care, child care, affordable housing, nutrition assistance and more. It would extend the expanded child tax credit, guarantee free, universal pre-kindergarten and increase Pell grants for college students. It would raise wages for care workers and make a historic investment in green jobs.

In other words, the bill helps Americans get good jobs and afford food, housing, health care and child care — a strong response to inflation.

Other provisions still being debated could ease inflationary pressure even more. For instance, the bill would allow more work visas for immigrants at a time when immigration is dangerously low, resulting in retail and hospitality jobs going unfilled, which drives up inflation.

The bill as passed by the House on Nov. 19 would guarantee paid family and medical leave, expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing and lower prescription drug prices by giving the government leverage to negotiate them downward.

In different ways, all of these ideas would save money for consumers. And they'd be paid for by raising taxes on extremely wealthy individuals and corporations — itself a valuable measure against inflation.

In fact, these are some of the most popular ideas in the whole bill, drawing approval ratings in the 60s, 70s, and 80s across political parties. But unfortunately, conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have significantly weakened these measures — and may yet push to eliminate them in the final bill.

Why oppose these enormously popular provisions? Manchin claims he's worried about the deficit and inflation. He's wrong on both counts.

The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that the Build Better Act will not add a penny to the deficit. Indeed, over time it will decrease the deficit. And economists at the Economic Policy Institute — along with 15 Nobel Prize-winning economists — have argued the Build Back Better Act will actually ease inflation.

The data is clear. The Build Back Better act would strike a significant blow against inflation — especially if its most popular provisions are included.

So if our wallets feel slimmer this holiday season, we can take comfort that long-term relief is coming — if our lawmakers step up and do the right thing.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Tribune Content Agency

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