Schoen, Young: Biden administration faces these top 5 domestic challenges
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When President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, he will inherit several unprecedented, immense domestic crises. The challenges facing the Biden administration are arguably more severe than those President Franklin Roosevelt came into when he took office in 1933 during the Great Depression.
From a policy standpoint, the most urgent problems facing the president-elect are ending the nation’s COVID-19 public health crisis and getting the economy back on track.
However, several broader, non-policy-oriented challenges will be some of the most difficult for Biden to overcome: making our government work again, unifying a deeply divided nation, and restoring legitimacy to American democracy.
In terms of policy, addressing the ongoing public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19 will undoubtedly dominate Biden’s first year in office, maybe longer. Put another way, it is improbable that Biden will prioritize or achieve any other meaningful domestic policy reforms while the pandemic is still surging.
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1. COVID-19 and Public Health
The worst public health crisis in a century is still spiraling out of control. Nearly 400,000 Americans have died, and a new, more transmissible variant of the virus threatens to prolong the pandemic. The Trump administration botched the country’s COVID-19 response early on, and now they are failing in terms of their vaccine distribution effort.
Thus, one of Biden’s greatest COVID-19-related challenges will be to quickly produce and administer vaccines to as many Americans as possible in as little time as possible.
Last week, the president-elect unveiled a robust $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, the American Rescue Plan, to tackle COVID-19. The proposal would bolster the failing national vaccination effort by allocating $20 billion to a national vaccination program in partnership with states and localities, with the goal of vaccinating 100 million people in his first 100 days. The proposal also devotes resources to enhance national testing and support public health workers.
2. The Economy
In addition to managing this public health emergency, the Biden administration also faces the challenge of managing the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. Millions of Americans are unemployed, small businesses are closing, and families are struggling to make ends meet.
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Biden’s American Rescue Plan provides $1 trillion for direct relief to families, which would come in the form of additional stimulus payments of up to $1,400, as well as an extra $400 a week in unemployment insurance.
The plan also allocates funds to reopen schools, offer housing assistance, and provide support to state and local governments as well as small businesses.
According to a new Politico-Harvard poll released last week, the American public’s top two priorities for the Biden administration are enacting a major COVID-19 relief bill (89% say this is extremely important) and expanding federal support for COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and PPE (86%).
Further, the survey reveals that Democrats and Republicans are in agreement that an agenda to address the crisis is of the utmost importance. Though, predictably, Democrats and Republicans disagree on what this agenda should include.
3. Making Our Government Work Again
As such, the challenge of making our government work again will be one of the greatest that Biden encounters. The president-elect has touted his ability to work with lawmakers across the aisle and get things done, but he has already set himself up for a potential roadblock early on in his presidency.
Biden will likely face resistance from Republican lawmakers, and even some conservative Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., on his American Rescue Plan—most notably, on the plan’s price tag, which is more than double the cost of the $900 billion package Congress passed at the end of last year.
Republicans are also likely to take issue with additional stimulus payments, as well as other expenditures that many in the GOP feel are not directly related to the pandemic—like a $15 minimum wage, $20 billion for public transit, and $9 billion for cybersecurity.
To that end, another one of Biden’s most pressing domestic challenges will be to fulfil his promise to unify the country, which means working with Republicans on bipartisan approaches to our most pressing problems.
Bringing together a deeply divided country is no easy feat in the aftermath of the insurgence at the Capitol on January 6th, which led to a second impeachment of Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection.
Without a doubt, Trump’s actions warranted impeachment. However, the process will inevitably further polarize the country, and will further alienate Trump’s base from the political mainstream, thus producing a backlash that will continue well into Joe Biden’s term.
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While most Americans would certainly like to see unity, the calamitous events of recent weeks have given voters doubts that Biden can achieve this. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, just 31% of voters say they think Biden will be able to unite the country, while 56% say they expect partisan divisions to remain the same as they are today.
Thus, with the Democrats now maintaining narrow control of the Senate, President-elect Biden, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer will have a responsibility to govern in a bipartisan way, and to reach out to Republicans and Sen. Mitch McConnell.
5. Restoring Legitimacy to American Democracy
Lastly, Biden faces the challenge of restoring legitimacy to American democracy. According to the same Quinnipiac poll released last week, nearly three-quarters (74%) of voters say American democracy is under threat.
Donald Trump has consistently tried—especially in the final weeks of his presidency—to challenge facts and delegitimize our democratic institutions, including our elections, and his spreading of falsehoods about the election has permeated the Republican party.
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A majority of voters (58%) say they believe there was no widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, including 93% of Democrats and 60% of independents. However, 73% of Republicans say they DO believe there was widespread voter fraud.
Thus, above all else, Biden must commit to bringing transparency, honesty, and stability back to government, and ultimately, to a national reconciliation and a revitalization of our national purpose.
Zoe Young is a Senior Strategist at Schoen Cooperman Research.
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