Biden’s 100-day strategy: under-promise and over-delivery

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“I came to talk about crisis and opportunity.”

So began President Joe Biden’s first address to Congress on the 100th day of his presidency. So far, the brand of the Biden presidency has been clear: under-promise and over-delivery. In December, President-elect Biden announced that in his first 100 days in office, Americans would be administered 100 million shots. At the time, it seemed like a dangerous announcement, perhaps downright insane. By March, America had achieved that goal, and by the time Biden made his first speech to Congress at the end of his first 100 days, he could report that more than 220 million strokes had been administered. “Tonight I can say that thanks to you Americans, this vaccine has been one of the best logistical achievements this country has ever seen.”

Biden’s accomplishment stands in stark contrast to his predecessor who often did the exact opposite: too promising and underperforming. By October 2020, when the coronavirus was raging, Trump said he would be gone no less than 38 times!

As vaccines rise, COVID deaths decline, and Americans return to some semblance of normalcy, two questions arise: What’s the secret sauce so far? Can Biden continue like this?

The strategy so far has been to speak quietly and infrequently and spend time solving problems. This is not typical of the modern presidency. As political scientist Sam Kernell has shown, over the past few decades, US presidents have spent a lot of time talking and traveling, often to the detriment of government.[1] In his first 100 days, the White House Biden appears to have broken that habit. By focusing on governance, Biden takes the presidential model back to an earlier time when problem-solving mattered. Perhaps this change is driven in part by preference and in part because the traveling presidency is hampered by COVID restrictions. Either way, the contrast with Trump couldn’t be more stark. As Andrea Risotto explained in a recent article, Biden is content to let the surrogates carry the burden of messaging. He doesn’t feel like he has to dominate the news every day, and when he speaks it is to announce something he has done.

The secret sauce is then that Biden really knows how to rule. His experience contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor who had no experience of governance, but it also contrasts with the other two.st presidents of the century whose federal government experience was slim compared to Biden’s. Behind Biden’s victory lap lies skill.

For example, faced with a huge demand for COVID vaccines, Biden signed two executive orders early on citing the Defense Production Act. These orders were critical to the ability of vaccine manufacturers to obtain the raw materials and machinery needed to expand vaccine production.

Faced with another different crisis of asylum seekers on the southern border (many of whom are children), Biden entrusted his vice president with the task of addressing the root causes of migration: chaos, poverty and dysfunction. in the countries of the Northern Triangle. He asked federal workers to come to the border and help HHS look after the children there. His budget request to Congress asks for money to hire additional staff to deal with the huge backlog of immigration cases. This approach takes advantage of the government’s ability to expand its ability to solve a problem.

Faced with the relentless crisis of police violence against people of color, Biden’s attorney general has opened so-called ‘model or practice’ investigations in two police departments across the country – with the promise more to come.

Faced with a climate crisis that requires action beyond US borders, Biden enlisted former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry to persuade the world that the United States is once again committed to reducing greenhouse gases. greenhouse and summoned world leaders to discuss what more could be done.

But as successful as the first 100 days were, Biden has his work cut out for him. The pandemic and the desire to end it gave him the opportunity to pass a massive bailout bill. In his wake, he outlined two other huge bills: the US plan for jobs and the US plan for families. They are expensive, totaling $ 3.8 trillion. Already, powerful senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV) balk at the price. And Republican senators have returned to worry about deficits, after four years on vacation after such criticism.

To push through these proposals, Biden has at least two strategies. First, he wants the rich and powerful to pay more. “Wall Street did not build this country,” he said tonight, “the middle class and the unions did.” As part of his plan to pay off much of his new spending, Biden announced he would seek $ 80 billion in additional funding for the IRS so they can check more tax returns for people earning more. of $ 400,000 per year. Over the past decade, IRS audit staff has declined, as has the total number of taxpayer audits. And audits of high income earners have declined much more as audits of low-income workers. Like my colleague Bill Galston points out in WSJ editorialIt almost sounds too good to be true, but if wealthier individuals faced audits, the government could recoup much of the change – enough to help fund Biden’s next round of proposals.

And second, his plan emphasizes American jobs – jobs that will go exactly to those displaced by globalization. In perhaps the most powerful statement of the evening, Biden said, “All investments in the US Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: buy American… US public money will be used to buy American goods and create American jobs. ” And he announced that even before the legislation was passed, he had limited his cabinet’s ability to offer exemptions from the US purchase mandate.

We are witnessing a very different presidency from what we have had in recent years. Like others before him, Biden has big plans. But it has the depth and breadth of experience to make it happen. Or at least that’s what we saw in those first 100 days.


[1] See the excellent analysis in Going public: new presidential leadership strategies.



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