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White House Economist Says Investments In Families Is Long Overdue

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Tonight, President Biden will call on Congress to spend a lot more on children and families. Biden's American Families Plan would offer paid parental leave, universal preschool and free community college. It would also increase taxes on the very wealthy and increase IRS enforcement. It would be massive - about $1.8 trillion in spending and taxes. And that's on top of a $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal and a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law.

HEATHER BOUSHEY: They're big numbers. But relative to our economy and relative to the need, they are, you know, quite frankly, just what is absolutely necessary.

CORNISH: Heather Boushey sits on the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Earlier today, she described the spending as needed investment in the labor force for working parents and down the road, their kids.

BOUSHEY: Well, you know, it's - Audie, it is so important that we invest in American families and in America's children. This is where the - you know, the new ideas are going to come from. It's where our future labor force is, and it's important to the American people, so this plan makes much needed investments in education and in child care, paid leave. We're really focused on doing this because it will support American families, help them engage in the economy and help them make ends meet.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the kind of big-ticket items, this bigger tax on the wealthiest 1% of Americans. How would this change the lives of Americans outside of that tax bracket?

BOUSHEY: Well, here's the thing. You know, the president has been very clear that he is not going to be increasing taxes on those who make under $400,000 a year, so this plan really is focused on making sure that we are ensuring tax fairness at the very top. And core to the plan is focusing on enforcement. You know, one of the things is that we've allowed the capabilities of the IRS to be eroded over time. And so there's a significant investment in the capacity of the IRS to go out there and enforce the laws on the books. And we...

CORNISH: So is that quite literally staffing? Is that more penalties? What does that mean?

BOUSHEY: It means a number of things. It certainly means more staff. It also means upgrading the computer systems, which are some of the oldest in the federal government. And it means changing the ways that high-income folks - their income is reported, so asking banks to report to the IRS directly on large income flows. Banks already have that information. They'll report it to the IRS, and that'll make it easier to make sure that those at the very top aren't able to avoid the taxes that they owe.

CORNISH: What's the thinking behind the $400,000 a year cutoff? Is that equitable?

BOUSHEY: You know, the president's No. 1 goal throughout has been to make sure that he is providing an economic agenda that will support middle-class families. And $400,000 a year in some parts of the country is a lot of money, but in other parts of the country, it's not so much and - or it's not as much. And what he is focused on is, let's make sure that those at the very, very top, those who have gained the most from the enormous growth in our country - that they are paying their fair share.

CORNISH: Let's talk about whether it's politically possible to make this happen. Ultimately, is the plan to push this through without Republican support using special Senate procedure?

BOUSHEY: You know, the president has been very, very clear on this, that he really has the door open to folks on both sides of the aisle to come to him with good ideas. He's also been very clear that what is not acceptable is inaction. The American people cannot wait for the kinds of investments that they need to see in their communities and in their families and in job creation.

CORNISH: So it sounds like the answer is yes. Like, it sounds like that is the plan. And is that, like, kind of a lesson that this president learned after Obamacare?

BOUSHEY: Well, what he learned is that you need to act with intention, and you need to make sure that you do what's important for the American people. And so he's committed to acting.

CORNISH: Even if there's a big political cost to that.

BOUSHEY: Well, if it's a proposal - a set of proposals that are popular with the American people, it's not clear what that political cost might be. I think he's betting on the fact that these packages are very popular. There are things that people need and want - investments in their communities and sensible ways to pay for them.

CORNISH: That's Heather Boushey, an economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Thank you so much for your time.

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