Closing Arguments: Biden’s accomplishments

With a refreshing lack of bombast, President Biden and the Democratic Congress have gotten a lot done.

People who believe the media has a liberal bias should consider two phenomena:

  • How easy it is to make people forget the disasters that Democratic presidents inherit from their Republican predecessors.
  • How quickly Democratic accomplishments pass out of the public’s attention, as if they never happened.

So any account of Joe Biden’s accomplishments has to start by recalling where we were on Inauguration Day, a memory that has somehow grown rosy in some people’s minds. (President Obama had to deal with a similar amnesia, as many people forgot Bush had handed him the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.)

  • Unemployment was at 6.3%, compared to 3.5% last month.
  • 104,265 Americans died of Covid in January, 2021, a rate of 3,363 per day. The current rate is 361 per day.
  • 12-month GDP was $22.22 trillion, barely more than the February 2020 level of $21.92, and well below August 2022’s $25.80 trillion.
  • American troops were still in Afghanistan, having accomplished virtually nothing after 20 years of nation-building that Trump pledged to end, but didn’t.
  • The federal budget deficit for FY 2020 (October, 2019 through September 2020, Trump’s last full year in office) was $3.1 trillion. The FY 2022 deficit was $1.4 trillion. We are currently in FY 2023, whose deficit is projected to be $1.2 trillion.

So let’s start there. Under Biden, we have significantly lower unemployment, higher GDP, fewer Covid deaths, a lower deficit, and our troops are out of Afghanistan.

The economy. In 2019, when unemployment spent most of the year in the 3.5-3.7% range, Trump declared it “the greatest economy in history“. Then the pandemic hit, the economy collapsed, and unemployment skyrocketed to 14.8% in April, 2020.

Both Trump and Biden fought to keep the economy going with emergency stimulus measures, including direct payments to individuals. As a result, the March-September period of this year once again saw unemployment in the 3.5-3.7% range. Jobs are once again plentiful, wages are rising, and many businesses complain about not being able to find enough workers.

The cost of this impressive economic performance in challenging circumstances has been inflation, which peaked at 9.1% (year-over-year) in June and has since been trending downward, though it remains an uncomfortably high 8.2%. (The war in Ukraine also factors into rising energy and food prices.) However, the US is doing relatively well in comparison with similar economies. Inflation is running at 10% in the 19-country eurozone and 10.1% in the United Kingdom.

It is hard to see how any of this will improve if Republicans reclaim either house of Congress. Looking forward to 2024, it will be in Republicans’ interest to block whatever Biden tries to do, especially if it would help the economy. In particular, we can expect a Republican-controlled house of Congress to return to the ransom-demanding practices the GOP used against President Obama. Expect another debt-ceiling crisis, and perhaps this time they’ll push the country into default.

Covid. In spite of his overall mismanagement of the Covid crisis, Trump deserves credit for funding the “warp speed” plan to develop a vaccine quickly. The first vaccines were approved in December 2020, leaving Biden to figure out how to get shots into Americans’ arms.

That was a key part of the American Rescue Plan that Biden got through Congress and signed less than two months after taking office. Remember how, under Trump, states competed with each other for resources to fight the pandemic? That hasn’t happened under Biden. Vaccines have been distributed fairly and for free. (Pfizer recently announced its intention to charge $110-130 per dose when government funding runs out. Imagine if we’d had to pay that from the beginning.)

Republicans could have given Trump credit for the vaccines and made vaccinating the country a bipartisan goal, but instead decided to go the other way. Together with conservative media, they ran a disinformation campaign about vaccines, masks, and everything else Covid-related. As a result, blue Massachusetts has an 82% vaccination rate; red Alabama 52%. Nonetheless, Biden still managed to get 68% of Americans fully vaccinated, including 93% of those over 65.

One cost of Republican disinformation, it’s worth pointing out, has been paid by their voters.

Average excess death rates in Florida and Ohio were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats from March 2020 to December 2021, according to a working paper released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Believing what Republican politicians and Fox News hosts tell you can endanger your health.

Foreign policy. When Biden took office, NATO was in shambles. Trump had repeatedly questioned the value of the alliance, and had even suggested the US might not fulfill our treaty obligations to defend other NATO countries if they were attacked. He seemed unable to criticize Vladimir Putin, and even took Putin’s side against US intelligence services in a particularly egregious meeting in Helsinki.

Biden’s reassembly of the alliance has been masterful. NATO has stood together in helping Ukraine resist the Russian invasion, and has even drawn Sweden and Finland into the alliance. Putin, who dominated Trump, has been completely outplayed by Biden. (Trump has continued to be in thrall to the Russian dictator. Shortly after the Ukraine invasion began, Trump described Putin’s move as “genius“.)

The US exit from Afghanistan was ugly, but necessary. To his credit, Biden was willing to swallow the medicine that three previous presidents had passed on to their successors. Trump had entered office promising to end the Afghan war, and repeatedly said he was doing so (including ordering an abrupt withdrawal after the 2020 election, which was not carried out). But he didn’t. Biden did.

After 20 years of nation building, including countless billions spent training and equipping the Afghan army, the Afghan government couldn’t even hang on long enough for us to get out of the country. Sad as those events were to witness, they demonstrated conclusively that our presence, and the continuing sacrifices of our troops, were accomplishing nothing.

Legislation. Another unfulfilled Trump promise that Biden delivered on was the bipartisan infrastructure package.

The legislation will put $110 billion into roads, bridges and other major projects. It will invest $66 billion in freight and passenger rail, including potential upgrades to Amtrak. It will direct $39 billion into public transit systems.

The plan will put $65 billion into expanding broadband, a priority after the coronavirus pandemic left millions of Americans at home without effective internet access. It will also put $55 billion into improving water systems and replacing lead pipes.

That bill didn’t just start the long-delayed rebuilding of America, it also proved that the two parties can still work together. 19 Republican senators and 13 representatives voted to pass it.

Biden’s third major piece of legislation was the Inflation Reduction Act, which he signed in August. This is the first major piece of legislation to fight climate change, and is projected to result in the US’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 being 40% below 2005 levels. It also cuts the deficit and reduces prescription drug prices.

Executive orders. President Biden has used his power to help Americans who need it. Among many other moves, he has ordered a limited student debt forgiveness (though Republicans have gone to court to block it), and is also pardoning non-violent federal prisoners whose only offense is marijuana possession.

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  • wcroth55  On October 24, 2022 at 11:30 am

    A minor point. The Pfizer/Biontech vaccine was developed *without* “Warp Speed” funding. (They did accept funding to *purchase* the vaccines.) Trump et al get no credit for that part. OTOH, some of the alternatives (e.g. Moderna) did, and the “Warp Speed” program does deserve credit for partly funding development of alternative vaccines — which was really important back then, because no-one really knew which approach was going to be successful.

    In the end, MOST of them were, which was great.

    • Creigh Gordon  On October 24, 2022 at 11:37 am

      And fine, give Trump credit, but honestly anyone with at least the brains God gave broccoli would have funded Warp Speed.

  • Creigh Gordon  On October 24, 2022 at 11:46 am

    Interesting thing about the court challenges to student debt relief. The 11th Circuit found the order unconstitutional, but the 7th Circuit found no standing to challenge the law, and Supreme Court Justice Barrett refused to accept an appeal. (Standing means you can’t challenge an action in court on general principles, you must show personal harm from the action.) I believe that means that debt relief is blocked in the 11th Circuit, but not in any other Circuit until the Supreme Court clarifies things.


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