Biden has set sky-high expectations; can he meet them?

Biden has set sky-high expectations; can he meet them?

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Back when the election was tightening and just a week away, Joe Biden went big.

He flew to Warm Springs, the Georgia town whose thermal waters once brought Franklin Delano Roosevelt comfort from polio, and pledged a restitching of America's economic and policy fabric unseen since FDR's New Deal.

Evoking some of the nation's loftiest reforms helped Biden unseat President Donald Trump but left him with towering promises to keep. And he'll be trying to deliver against the backdrop of searing national division and a pandemic that has killed nearly 400,000 Americans and upended the economy.

Such change would be hard to imagine under any circumstances, much less now.

He's setting out with Democrats clinging to razor-thin House and Senate control and after having won an election in which 74 million people voted for his opponent. And even if his administration accomplishes most of its top goals in legislation or executive action, those actions are subject to being struck down by a Supreme Court now controlled by a 6-3 conservative majority.

Even so, the effort is soon underway. Washington is bracing for dozens of consequential executive actions starting today and stretched over the first 10 days of Biden's administration, as well as legislation that will begin working its way through Congress on pandemic relief, immigration, and much more.

Has Biden promised more than he can deliver? Not in his estimation. He suggests he can accomplish even more than he promised. He says he and his team will “do our best to beat all the expectations you have for the country and expectations we have for it”.

Some Democrats say Biden is right to set great expectations while realising he'll have to compromise, rather than starting with smaller goals and having to scale them back further.

“You can't say to a nation that is hungry, uncertain, in some places afraid, whose economy has stalled out ... that you had to slim down the request of their government because you have a narrow governing margin,” said former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Biden's onetime Democratic presidential primary rival.

New presidents generally enjoy a honeymoon period that helps them in Congress, and Biden's prospects for getting one were improved by Democratic victories this month in two Georgia special Senate elections. He may have been helped, too, by a public backlash against the deadly, armed insurrection at the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

Biden's advisers have acknowledged they'll have bitter fights ahead. One approach they have in mind is a familiar one in Washington — consolidating some big ideas into what is known as omnibus legislation, so that lawmakers who want popular measures passed have to swallow more controversial measures as well.

Another approach is to pursue goals through executive orders. Doing so skirts Congress altogether but leaves the measures more easily challenged in court. Trump made hefty use of executive orders for some of his most contentious actions, on border enforcement, the environment and more, but federal courts often got in the way.

Biden's top priority is congressional approval of a $1.9-trillion coronavirus plan to administer 100 million vaccines by his 100th day in office while also providing $1,400 direct payments to Americans to stimulate the virus-hammered economy. That's no slam dunk, even though everyone likes to get money from the government.

Any such payment is likely to be paired with measures many in Congress oppose, perhaps his proposed mandate for a $15-national minimum wage, for example. And Biden's relief package will have to clear a Senate consumed with approving his top Cabinet choices and with conducting Trump's potential impeachment trial.

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