Despite Some Setbacks, Biden had a Surprising Strong First Year
President Joe Biden's legislative agenda took a bit of a hit when Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he could not vote for the Build Back Better Act [BBB] without substantial revisions. In their heart of hearts, most Democrats in Washington expected Manchin would make passage as difficult as possible. He's trying to hold on to a Senate seat in one of the reddest states in America and the climate portions of the bill are anathema to the coal industry in West Virginia. Manchin's announcement upset progressives in the Party, but it was likely just another negotiating tactic meant to give him more leverage on the final legislation. Expect to hear much more about BBB in 2022.
Despite Manchin's intransigence, complaints from progressives, and sagging poll numbers, President Biden had a surprisingly strong first year, including one of the largest and most successful mass vaccination campaigns in human history that saved millions of lives despite sabotage efforts from anti-vaxers and many of the MAGA folks in the far right media universe.
Early in the year, Biden convinced Congress to pass his American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion bill providing additional funding for fighting the pandemic and helping the economy through the recession. The measure included checks of $1,400 per person, aid to state and local governments, increased unemployment insurance, support for vaccination efforts, and housing assistance. The legislation also included provisions to temporarily increase the child tax credit from $2,000 a year to as much as $3,600, and make the benefits available in advance. That measure is now widely credited with dramatically reducing child poverty and even some Republicans would like to see it made permanent.
In November, Congress passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. It was a major legislative achievement for the Biden administration and it demonstrated that bipartisanship can succeed if you don't view politics as a zero-sum game. Thirteen Republicans voted in favor of passage despite opposition from GOP Party leaders. The legislation represents a major investment in building a 21st century infrastructure, keeping America competitive in the global economy. President Biden made the point following passage last month.
Biden Statement, Washington Post: “This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race,” in the 1950s and ’60s."
Former President Trump and most Republicans opposed the bill because of provisions that went beyond fixing the nation's crumbling physical infrastructure to address universal broadband access, green energy, and the climate crisis.
Washington Post: "Many of the investments aim to promote green energy and combat some of the country’s worst sources of pollution. At Biden’s behest, for example, lawmakers approved $7.5 billion to build out a national network of vehicle charging stations. Reflecting the deadly, costly consequences of global warming, the package also allocates another roughly $50 billion to respond to emergencies including droughts, wildfires and major storms."
On the federal regulatory front, Biden quickly reversed Trump's efforts to undermine the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and neuter the Environmental Protection Agency. He acted to protect endangered species, restore regulations to battle climate change, rebuild refugee resettlement programs, protect transgender Americans, and strengthen the Affordable Care Act. Brookings has a complete list here.
The President also left his mark on the federal judiciary in 2021. Biden had 40 federal judges confirmed, the most of any president in their first term since Reagan in 1981, and twice as many as Trump appointed during his first year. Of those, 80% are women and more than half are people of color, making a bit of a dent in the white, male dominated judiciary.
The economy has also been trending up since Biden took office. The unemployment rate fell to just 4.2% in November and the nation is on pace to grow at the rate of 5-6% annually, the best since 1984. Wages rose 2.4% after inflation from January to October, while disposable income grew 3%. And Americans were in the mood to spend this holiday season, driving up November retail sales by 9% over last year. Inflation is still an issue, but it should subside as the supply chain catches up to demand in the first quarter of 2022.
The Biden administration has much more work to do on immigration reform, voting rights, and social justice, but it has every right to tout these first-year accomplishments. And, perhaps most importantly, Joe Biden has restored civility and dignity to the White House.
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By: Don Lam & Curated Content