We're about a week into the Joe Biden Presidency, and people from both sides of the political aisle are already picking apart policies and his template for his first 100 days. Rather than make a premature judgment on how this is going to shake out, I think it's more prudent to take a look at what—thematically—we should be looking for in the first few months of his time in office.
- Big Spending: Biden and congressional Democrats have wasted no time putting up a massive COVID relief bill with a staggering price tag: $1.9 trillion. This bill includes everything from additional stimulus checks (up to $1,400 per person), increased unemployment benefits, funds to re-open schools, and relief to state and local governments. Of course, nothing in D.C. is easy (not even spending money, believe it or not). Republicans are pushing back not only on the package's total price but also on the timing. As Susan Collins noted, "It's hard for me to see when we just passed $900 billion of assistance why we would have a package this big." It seems like this bill will be reduced in terms of total dollars so as to expedite passing, but the theme of spending is not going to be contained to COVID relief. As former Fed Chair and newly-nominated Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen proclaimed last week, "Even under current conditions, I think we can afford to increase federal spending or cut taxes to stimulate the economy if there's a downturn." I wouldn't count on tax cuts, but federal spending will be a safer bet.
- Uninspiring COVID Progress: The money side of the equation makes the posturing of Biden and Democratic leaders suspect. If the plan of containment of COVID is, in fact, so robust and money has already been deployed to alleviate financial stress, why exactly do we need trillions of dollars in additional stimulus? Well, the reality is contrary to election rhetoric, no one (not Trump, not Biden, not Fauci, not you, not me) really has the magic formula to make this thing disappear. Cases are declining at the moment, but we've seen that before. Biden plans to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days (a pace that the U.S. was likely to hit anyway). He's strengthening some of Trump's travel restrictions—said Press Secretary Jen Psaki, "In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19." If I had to levy a prediction on how Biden will handle the pandemic, I'd expect two things. First, I'd expect more communication – both publicly and between the federal and state governments. Secondly, I'd expect some progress to be made as a byproduct of vaccinations and the immunity (even if it's fleeting immunity) that accompanies millions of cases. Anything above and beyond those expectations should be viewed as a win. I don't think his first few months will be defined by a decisive victory or even radical new measures. Frankly, the "mask mandate" was much weaker than some expected, and I'm not hearing any chatter about national-scale lockdowns. This paragraph may sound critical of Biden, but it's not intended to. Instead, I offer this: I think we're operating through a dangerous worldview if we expect Presidents to be able to control illness completely.
- Politics as Usual: From a personal perspective, the fact that we're still talking about impeaching Trump and a senate hearing has been scheduled for February 8th is absolutely staggering. What are we doing here other than posturing? In this instance (unlike last year's impeachment hearing), the posturing is from both sides. Democrats want to prove once and for all that Trump was the bad guy, that they were right about him all along and that any supporter of him can't be trusted. Interestingly, I think Republicans are going to argue some of the same points in an effort to marginalize the extreme loonies on the far right, which needs to happen in order for the GOP to re-organize and prepare for effective future campaigns. The question remains, however, what this trial actually means for everyday Americans—the reality: very little.
Up until now, Biden has been a good antidote for a fractured American political climate. He's preached togetherness and progress. He's winning on the basis of not being Trump, and for a guy, as seasoned as he is, that's probably not a bad tactic to take. But if that's his approach to the first 100 days, I think, like many of his predecessors, Americans will be looking for more. Given the difficult environment he inherited (a challenging economy, a deadly pandemic, lack of faith in institutions), I actually think the American people would be well-served to look at Biden's second
hundred days as opposed to his first. We don't elect Presidents solely to put out fires. We elect them to build things. I don't think he'll get a chance to build much over the next 3+ months, and as such, that doesn't seem to be his priority.