Domestic Affairs

President Joe Biden: We’re Halfway There, America

As we are all aware at this point, public opinion can be a force for good or bad. Many a political career has been tainted, and many an influencer has been canceled because of public perception. The Biden Administration, two years from its inaugural day in office, is no stranger to this phenomenon. In fact, it would seem that many of the events that have come to shape this president’s legacy have become increasingly scrutinized and more polarizing than the events surrounding those who came before him. It is no secret that media dramatizations and political animosity has shrouded Joe Biden’s presidency. Still, when first sitting down to write this article, I found myself overwhelmed with the various events, scandals, wins, and losses that have accompanied America’s 46th president. Even those such as myself who don’t religiously follow the political coverage know that to some, Biden is the Democratic angel who flew in to right the wrongs of Former Republican President Donald Trump. To others, well, he is not quite all that and a bag of chips. 

From a nonpartisan viewpoint, the two-year review is truthfully a very mixed bag. In a year-in-review by Boston University, Katherine Levine Einstein, an Associate Professor of Political Science, said, “one of the toughest challenges in evaluating the Biden administration is they’ve made these incredibly exciting investments in our communities, and we’re not going to see the effects for a few years, which is probably politically terrible.” Additionally, another source from the article writes, “in public health, the first year of the Biden Administration has been the best of times and the worst of times.” Regardless of what you believe, or whether you are an avid Biden fan, it is important to recognize and reflect on the many events that have played out on our nation’s stage over the last two years. To say they have altered the course of American history is to say the least and understanding what the Biden Administration promised, and what they have delivered, may very well influence how America votes come 2024. 

The Democratic National Convention of 2020 is an adequate place to start when reflecting on what the Biden Administration promised America if elected to its highest office. On the eve of August 17, 2020, the Democratic caucus began its rescheduled four-day event that culminated in its nomination for the upcoming presidential election. According to CNN Politics, there was one overarching message Biden wanted America to understand: he cares, Trump does not. Biden tugged on voters’ heartstrings, emphasizing that he understood the tragedies they were facing. He understood that this was a time of not only unprecedented uncertainty, but death, as in August of 2020, the American death toll from COVID was nearing 200,000. To console defeated voters, Biden cited his experience with death (referencing his own family tragedies), and promised he would make everything okay, underscoring the need for “love… understanding… small acts of compassion… bravery… [and]… unwavering faith.”

Perhaps even more important, though, was Biden’s promise to use his previous experience in office to right the wrongs of the Trump Administration. Over the course of the Convention, Biden’s former boss and longtime friend, Barack Obama, was seen praising the hopeful nominee. CNN Politics wrote, “everyone will remember the Obamas,” noting that the former president struck an incredibly somber note while encouraging voters to save democracy.

Backed by the ever-popular Obama’s, it’s no surprise that Biden won over the electorate present at the convention by the final night of the event. While his overall message never strayed from, ‘I care, Trump doesn’t,’ the future president also promised America specific things if elected. According to an online promise tracker, Biden swore to not only get COVID-19 under control, but also to ensure bipartisan cooperation regarding the economy, create a national commission to address police brutality, and improve Obamacare. Now, these are only four promises out of many that Biden made, but these were, along with student loan forgiveness, by far the most highly anticipated among voters

Two years on, it’s hard to discern where exactly the Biden Administration has landed on these promises. Many will echo a Politico year-in-review article saying, “[there’s]… room for improvement.” Biden would not seem to agree, especially regarding the COVID-19 Pandemic. On September 18, 2022, Biden announced during a televised interview that, “the pandemic is over.” However, not only did around 1,600 people die the very same day, but 14.6 million people globally contracted the virus. The Hill reporter Michelle A. Williams also wrote of this announcement, “I understand the impulse to close the book and move on. But I am deeply concerned that this declaration is not only premature but also dangerous.” While these statistics are from early fall of 2022, according to the same website, at least 5 million more people are projected to contract the virus as the winter months continue in 2023. 

So, could it be that Biden fibbed a little when he claimed the pandemic was over? The numbers seem to say yes, and even Biden himself amended his statement almost immediately after he made it. In his 60 Minutes interview, he admitted that “we still have a problem with COVID” and added that the administration was still working to remedy the problem. However, with the declarative soundbite sandwiched between the two amendments, nobody really understood where the administration was on the issue. The same remains true today: The Biden Administration has not solved the problem of the COVID-19 pandemic by any account, and nobody is really sure what they’re doing to advance a solution to the issue. Although, as an important note, the administration should be credited with fulfilling its promise of delivering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots to 50 million people in its first 100 days. 58 days in, Biden did reach this milestone, but there remains much work to be done before COVID-19 is truly ‘under control.’

Not only did COVID-19 wreak havoc on the population, but it nearly decimated the United States’ economy. With much of the businesses deemed non-life essential shut down for months on end, national GDP fell by a staggering 8.9% in the second quarter of 2020. Understanding how hard this recession would hit the lower socioeconomic classes, Biden promised to ensure bipartisan cooperation in strengthening the economy. However, while the economy did recover enough to ease fears of another Great Recession, on the heels of this came not only rising inflation, but skyrocketing fuel prices, a substantial housing bubble, and a year-long downward trend in the stock market. According to BBC News, some Republicans are calling the next downturn, “Joe Biden’s Recession,” a stark contrast to Biden’s comments that the economy is “as strong as hell.” 

But which is it? It’s no secret that “economic growth during the Biden… [Administration’s]… first year in office was greater than under both President’s Trump and Obama,” but is this just because Biden is credited with reopening the economy? If we take into account the 2022 trend of soaring inflation and gas prices, it’s hard to believe there is another reason. Taking a step back, however, one might be able to appreciate the external factors heavily contributing to this rise in inflation: many countries worldwide are still recovering from COVID-19 and are unable to handle the added financial stress of the war in Ukraine. As such, this is putting strain on the global economy and resulting in increased prices and decreased growth not only in the U.S., but everywhere. Additionally, it’s worth noting that gas and oil prices are determined by OPEC, and not the U.S. President, which has very little power in setting these commodities prices. This would suggest that the world outside of the U.S. is largely contributing to our fiscal problems. However, a large majority of Americans don’t see it this way. 

Despite the many contributing factors largely outside of the administration’s control that led to record-breaking inflation rates in 2022, including a deadly bird flu outbreak, global weather events, and exports bans in major vegetable oil producers, Biden is still being blamed for the increase in prices. As of October of 2022, a poll conducted by CNN showed just 32% of Americans approved of how he handled inflation and only 36% approved of how he has handled the economy overall. Regarding 2024, if America is voting with money in mind, it would seem Biden’s reelection odds are bleak. 

In addition to his mishandling of the economy, Americans are also frustrated with the administration for its lack of initiative in making good on the promise to crack down on police brutality. In a Politico article by Laura Barrón-López, she highlights that the President nixed his campaign pledge to establish the national police oversight commission after “respectful consultation with partners in the civil rights community.” According to the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Susan Rice, the Administration concluded that a police commission would not have been the best way to affect change in the area at the time. However, while civil rights advocates agree that a commission might have proved redundant and possibly useless, they are still urging Biden to push the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law. 

Unfortunately, for the purposes of our analysis, “the decision to shelve the commission underscores the ways in which campaign promises can clash with the realities of governing and potentially trip up a president’s agenda.” Despite the real ‘commission fatigue’ plaguing the White House and the initial retreat supported by organizations such as the NAACP and the Legal Conference on Civil and Human Rights, it would seem now as though both the commission and the bill are on hold. Following the guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd in March of 2021, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed in the House of Representatives on a 220-212 vote. However, since then it has faced an uphill climb in the Senate and still has yet to pass. In the Spring of 2021, the President stated that George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago, and meaningful legislation in his name languishes on the Congress floor; it shouldn’t take a whole year to get this done. The bill’s failure in the Senate in September of 2021 has all but quashed hope of the President fulfilling this promise. Here we are in January of 2023, and no signed bill sits on the President’s desk.

Conversely, President Biden does seem to have delivered on his promise to expand and improve Obamacare. Just eight days into his tenure, “Biden signed an executive order aimed at strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare or ACA).” Additionally, Biden has taken a broad strokes approach to not only making American healthcare more affordable, but also more widely available over the last two years. By way of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), Biden expanded eligibility for subsidies and increased the tax credits available to moderate to low-income families in need of ACA coverage. Additionally, for the 12 remaining states opposed to expanding Obamacare, the Administration added various financial incentives to the legislation. Unfortunately, it would seem only one state, South Dakota, would take the bait. However, as Joan Alker of Georgetown University notes, “… [it’s]… not for lack of trying by the Biden Administration.” Furthermore, because past enrollment within the program is trending upward (a record 14.5 million Americans signed up for the ACA plan in 2022), initial projections suggest there will be even more ACA plan selections in 2023. 

Despite the strides the Administration has taken in expanding the availability and affordability of healthcare, though, many Americans are worried about how much the new program will cost the average taxpayer. According to Suzanna Kvilhaug of Investopedia, the “nearly $2 trillion price tag makes this economic rescue legislation one of the most expensive in U.S. history.” To break it down, Wendy Edelberg and Louise Sheiner of the Brookings Institute reported that $750 billion dollars were given to aid state and local governments in the containment of COVID-19, $600 billion in direct aid to families, $400 billion in aid to financially vulnerable households, and $150 billion in aid to businesses. On its face, the bill seemed as though it would not only expand opportunities in healthcare, but provide much-needed support to those hit the hardest by the pandemic by infusing the national economy with a boatload of cash. 

Nonetheless, much of the criticism surrounding the ARP stems from this same cash infusion that is thought to be one of the primary causes of the skyrocketing inflation rates felt last summer. Moreover, of the $350 billion allocated to local governments, the Marshall Project reports that nationwide nearly all of the COVID-19 relief money was spent on expanding police precincts, prisons, and the courts. While Biden is quoted as saying this was one of his intentions in an effort to show how opposed his Administration is to defunding the police, the Project asserts that “with few limitations on how local governments can allocate ARPA funds, the spending will likely continue reflecting each municipality’s priorities and values… the money flows to programs and institutions, not with the greatest need during a public health crisis and economic upheaval, but those with the most existing political and budgetary power: police, corrections, and the courts.” To be sure, this is not how the Administration aimed for the money to be spent. Still, as the Marshall Project notes, with little oversight, it’s not surprising that the funding was spent in areas that benefitted the more powerful people in the recipient municipalities. 

To touch briefly on Biden’s promise of Student Loan Forgiveness, this is another area where the Administration has received a C rating at best. Despite the multiple Student Loan Forgiveness initiatives Biden has put forth, including the Limited PSLF Waiver, the IDR Account Adjustment, the Borrower Defense to Repayment, and the One-Time Student Loan Forgiveness plan, borrowers are not feeling the relief that he had promised. According to Forbes, there are not only widespread delays across the board regarding approval and implementation, but these circumstances have arisen because Biden cannot convince his colleagues across the aisle to support him on this front. In addition to Republicans not only claiming that Biden does not have the legal authority to allow the Federal government to forgive loans, they also claim that they do not have enough funds to do so. Congressional Republicans even went as far as to single out Biden’s One-Time Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, petitioning the federal courts to block it last fall. With certiorari granted and oral arguments at the Supreme Court set for February in this particular case, it could be as late as June of 2023 before borrowers see a decision and months after that before they can apply for loan forgiveness. 

In sum, it seems that despite the many well-meaning pledges President Biden made during his campaign, many of them have been blocked by the realities of American governance. In a nation as politically, socioeconomically, and ideologically divided as ours, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any citizen that much of what they expected (and had hoped for) with the Biden-Harris ticket has not come to pass. As mentioned previously, there have been wins and losses, but it appears as though much of what the administration has tried to implement has been thwarted by either external factors or the Republican party. Knowing this, I would be hard-pressed to put my trust in anything coming out of the White House these days.

Additionally, I believe it’s worth noting that with the discovery of classified documents at the President’s private residence just a few weeks ago, things are going to get much, much worse. Just like many other events of Biden’s presidency, this latest ‘indiscretion’ is becoming a media circus and will have implications for the remainder of his term. In Washington, Republicans (and even some Democrats) are up in arms over this new development. CNN Politics wrote, “[the discovery] … provoked new questions over why Biden still had classified information from his time as a vice president; how material, typically treated with extreme care by the federal employees, ended up at his private residence; and whether it was secure from prying eyes in the years it was there.” Additionally, many Americans are unclear on the distinction between the alleged misconduct of former President Trump and his similar mishandling of classified documents. To be clear, there are many strong opinions surrounding both allegations of presidential misconduct. Still, most of the questions being asked surround the legality behind the actions that can be taken in response to these indiscretions. As of right now, the courts have yet to decide, however, and perhaps more importantly, the court of public opinion has already ruled on the matter: From a Republican viewpoint, Biden is done. 

Despite this, though, there are many factors to consider in evaluating a Presidential Administration at the halfway mark. As mentioned throughout this article, Biden has delivered on some of his promises. However, on the whole, I align with Politico’s year-in-review article: there is certainly room for improvement. Considering the fact that the presidential election of 2024 is looming closer by the day, it’s important to recognize and reflect on how the Biden Administration has performed thus far. As a U.S. citizen, it is your duty to remain informed in your reflections about who should occupy our highest office. President Biden might have you think that it’s him, but I urge you to consider all of the facts in your evaluation. We are halfway there, America, and the most important question still remains, are you truly satisfied with President Biden’s performance?

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