The Biden administration has hit the ground running in a way not seen in Washington in decades. The president has signed dozens of executive orders and signaled he will be sending major legislation to Congress soon. Among the issues the president wants to tackle during his first 100 days we find the following:
- Pandemic Response and Economic Relief – The president has unveiled a $1.9 trillion package to bolster the federal response to the pandemic, help state and local governments, and provide economic assistance to millions of unemployed workers and business owners. Some Republicans have balked at the price tag, but the administration is doing the right thing in presenting a comprehensive package at this time. Otherwise, we run the risk of permanent economic scarring as the pandemic slowly fades away.
- Infrastructure – Economic aides have also stated the administration will be unveiling next month a larger economic recovery package focused on infrastructure spending. Traditional infrastructure, that is roads, bridges, airports, etc., is in pretty bad shape across the United States. Significant investment in infrastructure by the federal government would address long-standing needs and provide much-needed economic stimulus across the country.
- Climate Change – In addition to the executive orders he has already signed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and stop the Keystone pipeline, the president plans to unveil, probably as part of the larger infrastructure package, federal investments in green technology, covering research and development, manufacturing, and the deployment of new energy technologies.
- Health Care – President’s Biden health care proposals are based on expanding the scope and reach of the Affordable Care Act. His health care advisors are looking at expanding access to insurance marketplaces; creating a new public insurance alternative alongside private health plans; and lowering the age at which people typically become eligible for Medicare, the federal insurance program for older Americans, from 65 to 60.
- Immigration – The president has already signed executive orders reversing the ban on travelers from certain Muslim countries; stopping the construction of the border wall with Mexico; and ordering U.S. immigration agencies to set strict guidelines for arresting and deporting immigrants. In addition, the administration plans to send to Congress a comprehensive immigration reform bill, providing for, among things, a path to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented migrants, after a period of eight years and the payment of certain fines.
To say this agenda is ambitious is an understatement, but it is necessary as the U.S. faces multiple interlocking health, economic, political, and social crises. It also demonstrates the Biden administration is aware of the mistakes made early in the Obama administration and does not plan to repeat them.
Back in 2009, President Obama whittled down his stimulus bill in a fruitless effort to convince Republicans to support it. While President Biden has stated he would prefer to work with Republican support, he has also been clear that he will move ahead without them if necessary. Indeed, the Democrats have let it be known they are willing to use the special budget reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority to end debate and bring a bill to a floor vote, if the Republicans persist in being obstreperous.
There are limits, though, to what can be done with budget reconciliation. First, it is limited to measures regarding spending, taxes, or indebtedness. Second, and perhaps more importantly it can only be used once per fiscal year, but precedent allows for Congress to consider the three basic subjects of reconciliation — spending, revenues, and the debt limit — either in a single bill or multiple bills. This would allow the administration to present at least two reconciliation bills (since tax bills usually also involve additional spending).
At some point, therefore, there will be limits to what the administration can accomplish through executive actions and special procedures. It will be at that time when the president and his team will have to seriously consider changing the Senate rules to end the filibuster if they want to get anything else done. Their decision will affect American politics for decades to come.