By Anastasia Bekker
Elm Staff Writer
On Jan. 20, former Vice President Joe Biden and former Senator Vice President Kamala Harris were officially sworn into office as the 46th president and vice president of the United States.
Biden and Harris inherited an economy in recession and a country immobilized by a pandemic, as well as the racial and ethnic inequalities that have always plagued the country’s institutions but are now gaining more public attention. Climate change becomes a more pressing issue by the day, giving the Biden administration a myriad of problems to face.
According to National Public Radio reporter Scott Horsley, the administration’s agenda for the first year includes plans to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession by distributing the vaccine, safely reopening businesses, and providing stimulus checks. They also aim to tackle long-term issues like climate change, minimum wage, health care, and foreign policy, but their first concern is the current crisis.
In a speech on Jan. 14 in Wilmington, Del., Biden called his initiative to control the COVID-19 virus “the American Rescue Plan.” Part of this plan is to vaccinate 100 million Americans within the administration’s first 100 days.
While former President Donald Trump’s administration funded the development of the vaccine, the distribution of that vaccine was left up to individual states. To combat this issue, Biden announced plans for a $20 billion initiative that would quicken the rate of vaccine administration.
“[This initiative will include] the launch of community vaccination centers around the country and mobile units to deliver the shots to hard-to-reach areas,” Horsley said. “Biden’s plan also calls for hiring 100,000 additional public health workers, and a more robust surveillance system to watch for new and challenging mutations of the virus.”
These funds would go towards opening vaccination centers in American communities, providing all pharmacies with the means to administer vaccinations, and establishing mobile units to deliver the vaccine to those who need it. According to Vox reporter Dylan Matthews, one of his initial goals is to use FEMA to set up 100 vaccination centers by Feb. 20.
In order to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible, Biden said he plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce the vaccine and related materials. The Act allows the President to mobilize America’s industry to produce materials that promote America’s defense, or in this case, America’s health.
Using an executive order, the President also plans to mandate the use of masks on all federal property and interstate travel.
“The single most important economic policy in this is health care policy. It’s getting control of the spread of the virus, which we have not been able to do with much success yet,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a webcast with Princeton University’s Bendheim Center for Finance on Jan. 14. “But it’s also developing medical innovations for treatment and ultimately vaccination.”
Besides the threat to America’s health, the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the recession it has brought to the American economy. The administration is calling Biden’s presidential agenda “Build Back Better”, in hopes of establishing a strong narrative regarding controlling the virus and reviving the economy.
On Jan. 14, Biden described a $1.9 trillion plan, which will include $1,400 stimulus checks, raising the $300 per week unemployment insurance to $400, and allocating funds for American businesses and local governments. This plan will supplement the $900 billion relief bill Congress passed on Dec. 21, 2020.
Biden’s relief plan was passed in the Senate on Feb. 5 with a deciding vote from Vice President Harris.
“During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck,” Biden said at a “Build Back Better” Clean Energy event in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 14. “The very health of our nation is at stake.”
Because of the loss of jobs, renters nationwide have been struggling with payments. With this in mind, Biden plans to extend a moratorium on evictions until September, as well as use a fund of $30 billion to help renters with payments.
Local governments have also been struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in the loss of 1.3 million government jobs. Another part of Biden’s relief plan is a $350 billion emergency fund for local and state governments.
The President has also called for $15 billion for small business grants, in addition to a fund for low-interest business loans.
In addition to reopening businesses, there has also been a push to reopen schools. According to Matthews, within the first 100 days of his administration, Biden aims to open all K-8 schools using a budget of $170 billion.
The investments will be put toward testing, sanitation, protective equipment, and school ventilation systems. Biden’s plan has won the support of leading teachers’ unions despite their initial concern about reopening.
Comparisons have been made between Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s.
“Biden won’t come close to the scale of New Deal change, given his slim congressional majorities, but the general idea is still the same,” The New York Times reporter David Leonhardt said on Jan. 15.
Beyond his plans to combat the immediate economic problems, Biden also has plans for the economy in the long term.
Biden plans to gradually increase the federal minimum wage from the $7.25 to $15, as well as fight child poverty with the American Family Act. Although Biden chose not to endorse the “Medicare for All” plan during the presidential race, he still plans to make several changes in the field of health care. He has proposed lowering the Medicare age to 60, making health care available for more Americans.
Concerning immigration, Biden said that he aims to provide a route to citizenship for 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally.
As for climate action, Biden’s plan includes investing $2 trillion in clean energy and a mandate for the American electric industry not to produce any carbon by 2035. He also plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord via executive order.
The Democratic majorities in Congress are expected to expedite Biden’s agenda.
“He will be able to enact not just sweeping changes through executive action, but major spending bills with the benefit of a Democratic Senate and House,” Matthews said on Jan. 20.
While still focusing on domestic issues, Biden said in his first foreign policy speech on Feb. 4 that he plans to “reset” the country’s approach to foreign policy and end Trump’s “America First” policy.
One of the foreign policy changes Biden announced he was ending U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s military offensive in Yemen.
“We’re also stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen, a war which has created humanitarian and strategic catastrophe,” Biden said in the Feb. 4 speech.
In the same speech, Biden stated that he would be less forgiving of Russia than the previous administration, although he stressed the importance of diplomacy between the two nations.
Biden’s administration has also prepared several executive orders to be passed without the support of Congress. These include repealing travel bans on predominantly Muslim nations, limiting student loan payments, and ordering plans for reuniting families separated at the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The Biden administration is looking beyond the current crisis toward long-term issues, such as foreign policy and climate change. However, in the first year of his administration, Biden will focus his most of his efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Matthews.
With these stated plans and initiatives, Biden and his administration hope to help the country recover from the economic stress and health threats of the last year, so that 2021 doesn’t become a repeat of the national division, economic struggle and loss of life that was 2020.