The Biden Presidency, the Economy, and the Political Challenges

by Ralph Scharnau
Posted with permission

Since assuming the nation’s highest elective office, President Joe Biden has encountered an economy with both good and bad aspects.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment fell to 3.6% in March, the lowest level in about 50 years.  Yet the inflation rate comes in as the worst in 40 years.  Record wage gains of 5.6% over the past year, for example, run up against consumer prices that have risen 7.9% annually.

In mid-July of last year, the Democrats introduced in the Senate a measure that aims to reshape the American economy.  The $3.5 trillion budget blueprint proposed by President Biden and his party have called it essential to rebuilding the American middle class, lifting people out of poverty, and restoring an economy buffeted by the coronavirus, unemployment, climate change, homelessness, and medical crises.  If the main parts of the Biden economic plan are enacted, it would mean a capstone Democratic achievement that fundamentally overhauls Americans’ relationships with work, jobs, and the federal government.

A central feature of the Biden agenda involves passing economic legislation.  This includes pushing for Congressional approval of public spending on the nation’s physical infrastructure and jobs.  The Biden infrastructure proposals provide public money for repair, rebuilding, upgrading, or replacement.  This money includes public funding for roads, bridges, waterways, airports, and railways.  And requiring that infrastructure projects use U.S. produced materials like iron and stee will stimulate manufacturing and create millions of jobs.  Infrastructure construction work, moreover, provides good paying employment.

Wages figure prominently in Biden’s economic initiatives.  He rates as one of the nation’s strongest labor/union advocates.  He endorses living wages for all workers.

Consider that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been increased in 12 years.  Wage gains of 5.6% over the past year run up against consumer prices that have risen 7.9% annually.  Today many people work two or even three jobs to pay for food, housing, child   care, and transportation.  The abysmal level of minimum compensation brings economic distress to millions of wage earners.  Congressional votes to raise the federal minimum show a deep partisan divide with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.  Biden and the Democrats call for a $15 minimum.  Beyond the controversy over the need to even raise the federal minimum wage itself, other points of party contention include not only the size of the increase but also how to implement it.

Passage of Biden’s economic package in Congress faces a series of challenges, including filling in key details on taxing and spending and holding together a fragile Democratic coalition.  But if the plan’s central components become law, it would mean a capstone Democratic achievement that fundamentally overhauls Americans’ relationship with work, school, and the federal government.

All of these economic reforms will require unity among Democrats.  The razor thin Democratic majority in Congress could be upended by defections.  The real test will come in the Senate where conservatives and moderates wield more power than their more liberal colleagues in the House.

Ultimately, the degree of success of President Biden’s economic program faces two major hurdles.  One tests his ability to present a solid front of support from his party.   The other tests his ability to fend off attacks from Republicans who characterize his economic spending plans as exorbitant.

The continuing struggle to make the nation’s economy one where all people benefit should remain our goal.  With mid-term elections looming, voters will decide the fate of Biden and his Democratic party’s economic agenda.

Ralph Scharnau
April 26, 2022

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