This year, the President has proposed about $6 trillion in spending across three packages.
President Biden is attempting to cram a large policy agenda into a small political window, hoping to introduce significant improvements to transportation, child care, and tax policies, among other things, before next year’s difficult midterm elections.
Mr. Biden entered a new phase of his presidency this week with his speech to Congress ahead of his 100th day in office, after an early period focused primarily on combating Covid-19. The president — who has proposed approximately $6 trillion in spending across three packages — has stated that he wishes to cooperate with Republicans, but GOP lawmakers claim that he has not always been open to their proposals.
Mr. Biden must also maintain unity among his party’s moderates and progressives, given their narrow congressional majorities. He has less than 18 months before the midterm elections, which often result in defeats for the president’s party and may cost Democrats control of the House and Senate, underscoring the importance of enacting his initiatives.
Mr. Biden said in his Wednesday night address to a joint session of Congress that the United States must act to stimulate the economy or risk falling behind. “The rest of the planet is not anticipating our arrival. And, just to be sure, doing nothing is not a choice from my perspective,” he said.
According to public polls, Mr. Biden’s job approval rating has stayed above 50%, aided by public support for his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These are higher than those achieved by President Donald Trump over the same time span, but smaller than those attained by several other recent presidents at the end of their first 100 days. Mr. Biden claims that if he focuses on his policy objectives, “politics will take care of itself,” according to senior advisor Mike Donilon.
The president faces a number of obstacles, including convincing reluctant Americans to get Covid-19 vaccinations and dealing with a flood of migrants at the southern border. GOP leaders have begun framing their case against Mr. Biden’s presidency by arguing that certain Democratic goals are too far to the left for the majority of Americans.
“The policy they propose is ludicrous in every way,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said (R., S.C.). “The safest course of action for America is to slow down.”
Mr. Biden will travel to the United Kingdom and Belgium in June for his first overseas trip and has expressed interest in meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And, according to a White House official, aides have been performing “due diligence” in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy. Progressives also asked Justice Stephen Breyer, who is 82 years old, to retire. Mr. Biden’s departure will provide him with his best chance to begin reshaping the nation’s supreme court.
More generally, Mr. Biden has told members of his team during recent Oval Office meetings that his administration must work to rebuild Americans’ trust in government and the nation’s capacity to achieve great things. His spending plans represent an audacious attempt to expand the involvement of government in stimulating economic development, reversing a decades-old belief that federal intervention into the private sector will be detrimental to the economy.
“The role of government in society has shifted fundamentally,” said Robert Creamer, a Democratic strategist with close links to the White House. Mr. Biden, he said, might be “the most transformative president since FDR” if he is effective.
Mr. Donilon said that the president views this moment as critical: “He is a firm believer that we are living in a time when democracy is being put to the test and that democracy must demonstrate its ability to deliver for its citizens.”
Mr. Biden’s biggest challenge will be uniting a diverse group of Democrats on contentious topics such as immigration, gun control, voting rights, and policing.
Some congressional Democrats have pressed Mr. Biden to endorse repealing the legislative filibuster, which would allow bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than the current 60 votes. The president has not approved that course of action.
His supporters assert that amid such disagreements, he has been able to preserve party unity and that Republican leaders’ opposition to his platform has aided in keeping Democrats united.
“Donald Trump is the great unifier for Democrats on both the left and right of the political spectrum. And Mitch McConnell is now filling that role,” said Steve Israel, a former New York Democratic congressman who led the House Democrats’ campaign arm for two terms during the Obama administration.
In remarks Wednesday morning, Mr. McConnell said that Mr. Biden’s first 100 days “have left much to be desired.” Over the course of a few months, the Biden administration seems to have abandoned selling genuine solidarity in favor of liberal catnip dressed up in a thick coat of false advertising.”
Although Democrats won the White House and majorities in Congress in the 2020 elections, they fell short of the legislative margins they desired. Senate votes are split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tiebreaker. Democrats hold 218 seats in the House, while Republicans have 212.
The party with a first-term president regularly loses seats in the midterm elections. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all suffered midterm defeats. Republicans lost 40 House seats but gained two in the Senate under Mr. Trump.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R., Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, expressed faith in Republicans’ ability to retake the House in 2022. He cited left-wing demands to defund the police and the White House’s drive to actively fix climate change as concerns that would benefit GOP candidates.
“Everything we said they will do, they have done,” he said. “Voters will gain a better understanding of their socialist agenda and how detrimental it is to their everyday lives as a result of these details.”
Rep. Don Bacon (R., Nebraska) said that voters in his district were worried about Democratic demands to enlarge the Supreme Court and modify Senate filibuster rules. He also cited Mr. Biden’s policies on the southern border and decision to withdraw the Keystone XL pipeline permit, which he said cost his home state employment.
Looking ahead, Mr. Bacon said, “I believe we will profit from a tailwind, as much of the Biden-Pelosi agenda is very far left.”
Republicans have also been critical of Mr. Biden’s spending proposals. Several Republican legislators submitted significantly scaled-back Covid-19 relief and development proposals that would have cost significantly less than Mr. Biden’s.
According to the president’s advisers, polling indicates that his policies are broadly popular. “The other side is simply attempting to divide the American people by claiming that the president is too extreme,” White House senior advisor Anita Dunn explained. “They came out on the losing end of this debate. In 2020, the public rejected the argument.”
Rep. Haley Stevens (D., Mich.), who serves a closely divided district that Republicans will strike aggressively next year, said Republican attempts to mark her as a socialist failed in 2020. She noted that she was supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and has concentrated her efforts in office on manufacturing employment.
Ms. Stevens said that she was pleased by the fact that her district was feeling the effects of the recovery efforts. “That Saturday, when the checks began to arrive, I believe I was in a Lyft. And someone said, ‘Oh yeah, I received my stimulus check, and I’ve already used it to pay a few bills.’ “Boom, it just happened so quickly,” she said.
Mr. Biden’s supporters hope that his fortunes would coincide with those of George W. Bush, who saw Republican advances in both the House and Senate in 2002. These came in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when he was seen as a president resolving a crisis.
“The economy is going to be extremely strong,” Sen. Joe Manchin predicted (D., W.Va.). “That is extremely beneficial. Whoever is in control when the economy is solid, people are employed, their expectations are high, and their spirits are high, things should go well.”