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The First 100 Days: Biden’s Dull but Bold Presidency

In his first 100 days, our president has shown more boldness than humility.

Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

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Larry Greenfield
Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

The mainstream media’s coverage of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s first 100 days in office offers a collective sigh of relief for a “boring” politics of reduced rhetorical intensity in our nation’s capital. For many, the stylistic comparison to former President Donald J. Trump is highly favorable.

For many, the stylistic comparison to former President Donald J. Trump is highly favorable.

The Washington Post and NBC News document the administration’s early activity and accomplishments, and Mr. Biden has received generally positive media reviews for his commitments to climate policy and ethnic diversity in his administration.

Biden took office on January 20, 2021 at a deeply divisive time in American politics. The House of Representatives currently has a bare Democratic majority of 218 out of 435 seats, and the U.S. Senate is evenly divided at 50 – 50.

Unlike Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, who had huge partisan congressional majorities (in 1965 the Democrats held 295 House seats and 68 Senate seats) to help build out the New Deal and Great Society programs of the 1930’s and 1960’s, President Biden had a significantly weaker claim to a mandate in the new 117th Congress to accomplish his progressive agenda.

However, while he announced in his campaign and inaugural address that he would seek bipartisanship and a spirit of national unity, Biden instead moved quickly to push a bold executive and legislative plan, eschewing compromise with Republicans (he has still not held a phone call or meeting with House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy).

While he announced in his inaugural address that he would seek bipartisanship and a spirit of national unity, Biden instead moved quickly to push a bold executive and legislative plan, eschewing compromise with Republicans.

Biden recognizes that he may have a short window to enact his economic and social policies due to the Democrat’s small congressional majority, which may disappear in 2022.  At age 78, Biden is the nation’s oldest President and he may not even run for re-election in 2024, pending his own health limitations.

If voters expected a somewhat moderate administration after the contentious years of President Donald J. Trump, in many important ways the Biden Presidency is off to a rushed and radical effort to reverse Trump administration policies and return to the “fundamental transformation of America” started under Barack Obama, with whom Biden served as Vice President for 8 years.

In his April 28, 2021 address to Congress, Biden properly celebrated achieving stated vaccination distribution goals and declared that “America is on the move again.” Declaring that “we the people” is our government, he then let the nation know he plans to push for a robust and consequential legislative agenda including a $15 federal minimum wage, increased research spending on cancer, expanded Medicare benefits, and extraordinary levels of government social welfare spending for universal pre-school for 3-and-4-year-olds, low-income child care support, extended child tax credits, free community college and paid family medical leave. (The American Families Plan).

TAX & SPEND LEGISLATION

In 1984, when the national debt was 37% of GDP, then Senator Biden supported a freeze on all federal spending to address “runaway deficits.”  In 1993, President Bill Clinton took pains at his first press conference to disclose that he sought to reduce the federal deficit (national debt then stood at 67% of GDP). By 2009, at President Barack Obama’s first press conference, the public debt was 77% of GDP. It has only grown since. U.S. debt now stands above $28 trillion, around 130% of GDP.

“When did billions become trillions?” asks Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, which points out that while low interest rates have kept the annual cost of servicing the debt at around $300 billion, even an increase of one percentage point in rates would increase interest payments by another $300 billion this year.

And yet, in his long-delayed first press conference, on March 25, 2021, Mr. Biden did not express concern about our nation’s spending, which have been compared to World War II era levels of federal government spending at a time when the U.S. economy is sharply recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic-induced recession.

Inheriting strong stimulus in the form of the coronavirus vaccines declared effective through clinical trials in 2020, the Biden presidency might have chosen to leverage Operation Warp Speed’s boost to economic growth and renewed business optimism in 2021 with a long overdue attempt at fiscal sobriety. “Building back better” could have sought to tame Washington’s unending proclivity for piling on public debt.

Instead, with much of the $4 trillion in stimulus spending passed in the last Congress still unspent, according to Adam Andrejewski, CEO of OpenTheBooks, a government transparency organization, the new $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief stimulus package (The American Rescue Plan) moves beyond broadly supported pandemic relief to an ever more massive expenditure of public resources, risking inflation, according to Democrat former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Less than 9% of the bill is directly related to Covid-19 pandemic testing and vaccine distribution. Beyond that are welfare programs, bailout grants to state and local governments, handouts to airlines and union pension plans, and a wish list of other progressive causes, including an astonishing $170 billion on education even as most public schools are only now finally reopening after a year of shutdowns.

This spending bonanza was pushed through the House and the Senate with little Republican input and did not secure a single Republican vote. Republicans had proposed a $600 billion package focused on immediate needs as well as some fiscal stimulus. In rejecting their proposal, Biden chose to stamp his presidency not as one of unity, but one of partisan power. To do so he used the Senate’s “budget reconciliation” rule to avoid a filibuster. And now, with that model in place, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is securing from the Senate parliamentarian the use of the same 50-vote process for the next Biden spending package, an unprecedented $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill (The American Jobs Plan).

This spending bonanza was pushed through the House and the Senate with little Republican input and did not secure a single Republican vote.

This first of several “infrastructure” bills includes some traditionally bipartisan investments in roads, bridges, highways and broadband internet. But the Wall Street Journal reports “this accounts for a mere $115 billion of Mr. Biden’s proposal. There’s another $25 billion for airports and $17 billion for ports and waterways…The rest of the $620 billion earmarked for ‘transportation’ are subsidies for green energy and payouts to unions for the jobs (his) climate regulation will kill. This is really a plan to build government back bigger than it has ever been.”

“The magnitude of spending is something to behold. There’s $85 billion for mass transit plus $80 billion for Amtrak, which is on top of the $70 billion that Congress appropriated for mass transit in three Covid spending bills. The money is essentially a bailout for unions, whose generous pay and benefits have captured funds meant for subway and rail repairs.” 

This is separate from the anticipated introduction of yet a third $1.8 trillion “human infrastructure” spending plan. To pay for all of this spending, Biden is proposing large tax increases on corporations and high-income earners, which may slow growth, negate expected revenue, and accelerate the off-shoring of jobs (Ford Motor Company announced it is moving a plant from Ohio to Mexico).

Proposed sharp increases in the individual capital gains tax rate are opposed by both Republicans and centrist Democrats as threats to economic investment and small businesses and younger start-up entrepreneurs.

The President’s attempt to push through some $7.5 trillion in cumulative social welfare spending will define the Biden presidency. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens cautions that the European welfare state model risks massive corruption and stunts growth and innovation, which will be necessary to compete with China in the 21st century.  Mr. Biden may tax and spend America “into a kinder, gentler place of permanent decline.”

PERSONNEL

On the issue of U.S. – Israel relations, two of President Biden’s more senior officials seem an improvement over the Obama era.  Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is a thoughtful, pro-Israel diplomat, with a longtime appreciation for the Jewish state’s struggles in a difficult Middle East.

And National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has approached his relations with Israel in a spirit of collaboration and respect for intelligence sharing.

However, if “personnel is policy,” the Biden administration has nominated some concerning choices for the pro-Israel community.

Colin Kahl:  Undersecretary of Defense, worked in the Obama State Department where he was an architect of the controversial JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) and the transfer of funds to the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was a staunch opponent of sanctions on Iran and even opposed a bill to sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Council. Mr. Kahl also opposed recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Uzra Zeya: Undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, worked as a staffer at the controversial “Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,” compiling research for a book that argues that “the Israel lobby has subverted the American political process to take control of U.S. Middle East policy by establishing a secret network of ‘dirty money’ PACs.” 

Maher Bitar:  Senior Director for Intelligence on the National Security Council, is a longtime Israel critic and board member of Students for Justice in Palestine. He has supported the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement’s attempt to harm Israel’s economy, accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and written that “Israel’s “political existence as a state is the cause for Palestinian dispossession and statelessness.”

A number of other nominees have come under fire for some concerning perspectives, including:

Sarah Margon, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, is a longtime Israel critic.  As head of the Washington, D.C. office of Human Rights Watch, she applauded castigation of Israeli settlements and supported the boycott, divestment, and sanctions economic movement against Israel.

Kirsten Clarke, Assistant Attorney General, has endorsed and defended some bitter enemies of Israel.

THE BORDER CRISIS

There are over 1 million Mexican nationals waiting patiently in line to enter into the United States legally. Another 4 million hopefuls in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe are as well.

Under the Trump administration, illegal crossings at the U.S. southern border were reduced dramatically — the 2020 numbers were the lowest in 45 years for those cutting in line and presenting themselves without going through legal process.

While Trump reduced the trafficking of young children, the early 2021 numbers are rising dramatically.

This means Mexican drug and slave labor cartels are empowered again, threatening families in Central America, using migrants as “mules” to carry drugs into the U.S., and enabling “coyotes” who are known to rape young girls and women along the journey to the U.S. border.

Mexican President Obrador has placed the blame on the Biden administration, which, in a series of moves, is creating a humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border.

Unfortunately, some of those entering the United States also have Covid-19 and risk passing it onto others in overcrowded holding centers.

Biden has ordered officials to release many migrants without passports or identification into the general population without any requirement that they appear at a future legal proceeding.

Some are being put on flights at taxpayer expense  and released into the general population.

Mr. Biden’s supporters would point to his Congressional address, in which the President returned to longstanding and reasonable policies of seeking a pathway to citizenship for many immigrants who have been in the United States for a long time, which has earned some GOP support for two proposals recently passed by the House.

The American Dream and Promise Act would benefit some 4 million eligible applicants with a 10-year conditional status before they can apply for citizenship. Those brought illegally to the US as children and the roughly 400,000 people living in the US with Temporary Protected Status would qualify.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would create a two-year temporary residency status for agricultural workers. The Certified Agricultural Worker status could be renewed indefinitely as long as the recipient continued to work. After 10 years of work and a $1,000 fine, immigrants could gain a green card.

PARTISAN POLITICS

In announcing his executive order to cancel the XL Keystone Pipeline, Biden offended our Canadian neighbor, cost thousands of American jobs and reduced U.S. energy independence.

To help fulfill a partisan agenda, Biden has expressed support to end the U.S. Senate filibuster, the rule that requires 60 votes to move a bill forward in the Senate, a tradition Biden now claims is a “relic of the Jim Crow era,” but which he previously fiercely championed, in what he called “his single most important” Senate speech.

Democrats are long familiar with the filibuster, having mastered its use to work against civil rights legislation in the 1960’s, led by longtime Senate Majority Leader Robert K. Byrd (D-WV). Mr. Biden (and Mr. Obama and Mr. Schumer), all frequently touted the importance of the filibuster asserting that it protects the minority from majority domination.

In fact, last year, when they were in the minority, the Democrats used the filibuster some 327 times, including to prevent passage of a police reform measure pushed by African American Senator Tim Scott (R-SC).

Pushing to end the Senate filibuster would open the door to legislative efforts to make D.C. and Puerto Rico into U.S. states. Democrats have also presented a plan to pack the U.S. Supreme Court, and Biden is backing an effort to federalize all U.S. elections through HR.1 in the Congress.

In his first 100 days, our president has shown more boldness than humility.

President Biden promised in his inaugural address to show “a little tolerance and humility.”

In his first 100 days, our president has shown more boldness than humility.


Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

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