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OP-ED: Biden’s burden: The key domestic issues

  • Published at 12:42 am November 13th, 2020
Joe Biden
File photo of US President-elect Joe Biden speaks on the Affordable Care Act in Wilmington, Delaware Reuters

The president-elect must limit his objectives, and increase market competitiveness

President-elect Joe Biden begins to shoulder the burdens of office but he faces grave difficulties. Over the next 75 days he must:

1. Prepare his domestic program for the first year of his presidency. This article discusses what seem to be the main points and raises two important points of the philosophy of governance.  

2. Handle the exit of Trump, who seems unwilling to go nicely. There is little that he can do here, but he cannot be passive and may well choose to foreshadow the response if the Supreme Court gives the presidency to Trump.  

3. Oversee the two Senate elections in Georgia scheduled for January 5.

4. Select his cabinet and other key officials and begin the preparation for their submission to the Senate for approval.  

5. Prepare for key foreign policy issues after he becomes president, with an uncertain inheritance from the Trump administration.

This is a tremendous task. Numbers 2 and 3 are particular to the ending of the Trump presidency. But the other three tasks Biden will have to tackle with uncertain coordination with the Trump administration.

Managing the pandemic

The raging pandemic is now setting a record number of new cases -- a very poor outlook for the next few months. Deaths are now past 1,000 per day and have averaged more than 800 per day during the past week. During election week, everyone was focused on the voting, but it is likely that the large number of voters going to the polls will result in a new peak of cases in the coming weeks.   

By the time that Biden becomes president, there will be more than 4 million additional cases and an additional 50-75,000 deaths if Trump does not cooperate in new programs before January 20.

There are many things the government needs to do to reduce the impact of Covid-19 while avoiding a lockdown of the economy. A serious problem that the Republicans face is the way that the stimulus program was executed. The Republican politicians forced funds to be distributed to friends and supporters.  

The Trump administration has not been very transparent and there are probably many horror stories of financial malfeasance. If Biden approaches this matter correctly, then the records of this malfeasance are available to persuade the Republican senators to cooperate. 

Many businesses that received funds improperly will find themselves under investigation by the SEC and the tax authorities. Cleaning up the management of the stimulus program should be a very high priority for the new administration.

Biden will have time to organize his program to manage the pandemic -- a better defined testing program, implementation of a massive tracking program, continuing to push the development of vaccines, encouraging wearing of masks through a massive advertising program featuring local doctors and nurses with community reputation to convey actions and information, and preparing the way for a massive vaccination program.  

In addition, Biden should take international leadership to encourage cooperation around the world. It would be good politics to give Trump credit for the aggressive way the vaccine program was implemented.

To promote cooperation with the Republicans, there should be no blaming others, but instead, concentrating on getting a focused program in place as rapidly as possible. This continuing medical emergency should stay clear of politics.

Economic recovery

The second major task is to provide more stimulus for the economy. Biden will try hard to reach some agreement with McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate. But how much cooperation there will be is uncertain. It is hard to accept the idea that the Republicans are going to ignore the plight of those who face employment problems, and are short of financial resources, but we have seen over the past year remarkable cruelty from the Republican leadership.  

In fact, there has been considerable progress in economic recovery. Unemployment is declining and growth is accelerating but there is a long way to go. The problems are to avoid lockdowns and support small enterprises.  Avoidance of lockdowns rests upon well-organized testing, tracking, and quarantine.  

Supporting small enterprises requires more resources and careful implementation.  

The management of unemployment insurance needs immediate and urgent improvement. The Federal government needs to help the states upgrade their computer management systems. The pressure of the lockdown exposed how difficult these issues are.  

Many states are still struggling with these problems after several months, with large backlogs of application for unemployment insurance. Perhaps the Federal Reserve can lend to the states to enable continuation of unemployment benefits and even increase these to provide additional support.

Health care

The management of health care in the United States is an issue of tremendous complexity. The Affordable Care Act was a major effort to improve coverage and quality of health care. The Trump administration did a great deal of damage to this program. Further, there are cases before the Supreme Court, supported by the Trump administration, that will soon hear oral arguments that may lead to the court declaring the ACA unconstitutional.  

No one knows how all of this will develop. But Biden must be prepared with legislation to reinstate the ACA program should the Supreme Court show their disdain for the poor. The hypocrisy of the well-off Americans, including the Supreme Court justices and American civil servants, working to deny medical care for the poor or for those with existing conditions while they benefit from tax-free income to pay their medical insurance is a deeply disturbing moral breakdown of upper-class America.  

They not only have these views, but men like the secretary of state and the attorney general claim to be Christians. Jesus Christ is nauseated.  

How to get the Republicans to go along? Biden should launch an extensive investigation of the behaviour of the Trump cabinet officers, senior political appointees, and Trump himself. Trump is certainly exposed as of January 21 to charges of obstruction of justice as laid out in the Mueller report.  

The administration of the stimulus program is as mentioned above a rich area for finding financial malfeasance. It is very likely that there are hundreds of cases of illegal activity by Trump and his Cabinet. The deal is simple: Work with us to carry out the three programs listed above, and nothing will happen. Obstruct us and the fury of justice will be let loose. Biden should be pragmatic and forego justice (or vengeance) for agreements to run the country.

Philosophy of governance

Biden faces a major problem in differences within the Democratic Party as to how the above three problems should be tackled.

Complexity and possibility

The three issues sketched in this article are all complex. One should be humble in believing one knows the answers. Seeking solutions is vital to recognize the complexity, the impact of actions, on different groups and the need for flexibility to adjust as events unfold. The federal government has few of these characteristics. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is full of people who believe they know grand solutions for complex problems.  

Biden must avoid the grand sweeping solution such as “Medicare for All” and deal with marginal steps that have significant results.

Free enterprise

The most important set of actions is to move towards a more competitive, less abusive economy. To increase competition, actions are needed to enforce the anti-trust laws to limit the market size held by one company.  

Competition in the American economy has been declining and it is urgent to restore. The giant tech companies must be curbed from further growth.

Regulatory actions should be light; subsidies should be removed or reduced.    

In the financial sector, Biden will move to limit the size of banks, to promote smaller local banks, and to strengthen the controls and rules over exploiting the poor by the financial institutions.  

Trade policy should move back towards free trade with everyone following the rules. But a serious program of training and relocation for American workers is needed.

The new American president faces demands for solutions to all problems. To be successful, however, he must limit his objectives and ensure that market competitiveness is increased.

Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

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