By Lucy Penman
When a president enters the Oval Office, they often have a crucial issue facing them that, depending on their response, could be the making or breaking of their presidency. For Obama, he faced the mammoth task of solving the economic crash of 2008, which had the potential to wreck the economy. However, his administration’s robust recovery plan costing $831 billion resolved the crisis, which subsequently began the longest period of economic expansion ever in American history and centemented him as one of the greatest presidents. FDR similarly was challenged economically through the Great Depression and he had to create a proposal offering strategies that would help the country to recover. Fortunately, FDR generated the New Deal, a series of financial reforms that also solidified his place in history. Now, the current president, Joe Biden, faces perhaps the most economic unprecedented challenge of all – the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic is deadly, not caring who or what businesses it destroys in its path. The world can see this by looking at the US death toll, which is nearing half a million in less than a year. No one can doubt that America’s response to COVID has been disastrous. Furthermore, the Biden administration is disadvantaged even more so as it is having to grapple with the consequences of the Trump presidency, which downplayed the severity of the pandemic and did not do enough to mitigate the losses. Furthermore, as the New Yorker reports, a new coronavirus variant, thought to be 50% more transmissible and possibly 30% more deadly than the original, has been discovered in at least nine states, and if the UK’s example is anything to go by, the new variant could damage the US economy for months.
Therefore, it is clear that the odds are stacked against the new president and that a comprehensive plan is required in order for there to be any hope of recovery for America. However, Biden knows that he has to deliver a plan quickly and began to do so on his first day in office by signing an Executive Order that required wearing a mask on federal property as well as planes. He has furthered his commitment to solving the pandemic by proposing to Congress a $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Plan that, according to his administration, will help get America back on its feet. However, does the plan go far enough and will it be supported?
Politically, the chance for Congress to push back on the plan seems non-existent. The Democrats have a strong majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, meaning that they have all the votes necessary to push through any proposals they want and theoretically, do not have to compromise with Republicans at all. Although this is the case, Biden is still committed to working with the Republicans on deals. This may derive from his decades long Senate career which resulted in him having friends on both sides of the political aisle. Therefore, perhaps Biden’s plan will fulfil both his Administration and some Republicans’ wishes for the plan, which will inevitably help him in the war against COVID.
The plan proposes a multitude of different things, but first and foremost, to listen to science. This is a stark difference to the Trump presidency which at times was not guided by science and published information that blatantly ignored public health recommendations made by the scientists. For example, President Trump openly supported the use of injecting bleach as a method of treatment for the virus, which consequently made his scientists distance themselves. Thus, Biden’s plan being led by science is drastically different to Trump in many ways, but perhaps the scientists’ support is the most important. Biden’s move to listening to the data is heavily welcomed because the scientists feel that their argument of the need to be a coordinated pandemic strategy is finally being listened to.
The plan also factors in vaccinations and recommends that states relax their criteria for vaccine eligibility to include all Americans older than sixty-five, as well as essential workers such as teachers and grocery-store employees. Furthermore, the plan goes into detail how it will aim to administer 100 million shots in the first 100 days of Biden sitting in office, something which Biden committed to in December. Whilst at first glance this may seem like an ambitious task to achieve, the Biden administration does not shy away from detailing how it will accomplish this by proposing that it will create 100 new vaccination centres by using grocery stores and stadiums as venues. Moreover, this goal seems even more plausible as the NFL has offered all 30 football stadiums as potential vaccination centres, demonstrating that Biden has the support of not only politicians, but also cultural giants. Finally, Biden’s vaccine plan has also overcome the scepticism surrounding the vaccine as 60% of Americans are now willing to have the vaccine, which is a 9 point increase from September.
Therefore, although Biden faces a great challenge ahead of him in the initial days of his administration with the odds stacked against him after reviewing the evidence, one is inclined to support the idea that Joe Biden will succeed as he has support from key stakeholders such as scientists and Congress. Lawrence Summers, Clinton’s former Secretary of Treasury, notes, would represent the boldest act of macroeconomic stabilization policy in US history works efficiently, then Biden will surely be revered by history as one of the greats alongside Obama and FDR.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist