Acton Institute Powerblog

What to expect in Joe Biden’s first 100 days

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, a president’s first 100 days have served as a benchmark for his presidency. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has already made history by signing an unprecedented number of executive orders on his first day and pledging a flurry of legislation which will greatly expand the size, scope, and cost of government while reversing protections for people of faith and the unborn.

Biden’s staff designed some of his initiatives to fit the 100-day time frame, such as:

  • Vaccinating 100 million Americans for COVID-19 – a rate of roughly a million a day, a goal that had already been realized before he took office. Although Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Xavier Becerra defended the goal as “bold” and “ambitious,” Biden admitted on Monday that he “misspoke” and hoped the level would rise to 1.5 million doses a day;
  • Open all public schools within 100 days;
  • Stop all deportations for 100 days, pending new guidance; and
  • Unveiling a “100 Day Masking Challenge.” In a rare nod to the Constitution’s limits on federal power, Biden scaled back his proposed 100-day national mask mandate to federal property and interstate travel, as well as issuing the aforementioned, voluntary “100 day masking challenge.”

Other early Biden administration actions are purely symbolic. For example, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that the administration would “resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20” bill.

However, much of President Biden’s agenda for his first 100 days in office remains substantive.

Executive orders: Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, previewed the president’s first 10 days in a January 16 memo. “On Inauguration Day, President-elect Biden will sign roughly a dozen actions to combat the four crises” of “the COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis.” That process is already well underway. In addition to the 17 executive actions on his first day, Biden has signed executive orders enhancing union organization by public sector unions and boosting federal pay to at least $15 an hour, assuring COVID-19 economic relief is distributed “in a manner that increases [racial] equity,” strengthening “Buy American” protocols, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military – and receive hormone therapy or gender-reassignment surgery at taxpayer expense, a policy that could cost taxpayers up to an estimated $3.7 billion over 10 years. The president plans to issue new executive orders on racial equity, climate change, healthcare, and immigration this week.

Biden has repeatedly said he will repeal former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Title IX due process reforms. DeVos gave those accused of sexual harassment on campus such fundamental legal rights as the ability to review the evidence against them and have counsel cross-examine the accuser. Biden would roll these reforms back to a standard imposed by the Obama administration, which many likened to a kangaroo court. Biden will likely reinstate the Obama-era guidance on transgender students using the restrooms, locker rooms, and overnight accommodations of the opposite biological sex.

Klain said reliance upon executive branch edicts “represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President.” The left-wing of his party places a heavy premium on executive actions that circumvent the legislative process. Corbin Trent, a former spokesperson for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has said “we just don’t have time” to convince center-left Democrats “like [Sen.] Joe Manchin that are going to be trying to pull back the party and hold us back.”

COVID-19 economic ‘stimulus’: Topping Biden’s legislative agenda is the “American Rescue Plan,” a new COVID-19 relief package that Biden promises will cost “in the trillions of dollars.” (Most sources place the actual price tag at a still-gargantuan $1.9 trillion.) Biden plans to raise the amount of stimulus checks every American will receive by supplementing the $600 checks already authorized by an additional $1,400 per person. The bill also proposes 14 weeks of paid family leave at up to $1,400 a week. Desmond Lachman of AEI wrote:

The Biden stimulus package is truly epic in size. It would be more than twice the size of the 2009 Obama budget stimulus and would come on top of the more than US$3 trillion in Covid-19 budget stimulus measures enacted last year. It would also be coming at a time that the U.S. registered a record budget deficit last year, which raised our public debt to GDP ratio to over 100 percent. That ratio was higher than that which prevailed after the Second World War.

The sticker shock will only rise, as socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders has said he is “working with Biden’s people, we’re working with Democratic leadership” to craft “the most aggressive reconciliation bill to address the suffering of the American working families today.” A Senate Democratic aide told Politico these negotiations will result in “a vote-a-rama” before the bill goes to President Biden’s desk. Then, the Senate plans to pass the bill by the process of reconciliation, which requires a bare majority in both houses, allowing the package to become law without a single Republican vote.

The government will distribute the spoils according to intersectionality and critical theory. “Our priority will be black, Latino, Asian, and Native American-owned small businesses, women-owned businesses,” Biden said.

Biden also plans to extend moratorium on student loan repayments and interest, as well as pausing foreclosures and evictions until September 30, 2021.

$15 minimum wage: Biden plans to raise the minimum wage to more than double the federal minimum wage, from $7.25 to $15 an hour. ““Nobody working 40 hours a week should be living below the poverty line,” Biden said. A $15 hourly minimum wage could cost 3.7 million Americans their jobs, denying them the right to work any hours, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

Taxes and economic policy: Biden named reversing most of the reductions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts of 2017 as one of his top priorities. “I’d make the changes on the corporate taxes on day one,” he promised. Raising business taxes from 21% to 28% would give the U.S. a higher corporate tax rate than the European (20%) and global average (24%). The proposal would cost 236,000 U.S. jobs, lower wages by 1%, and contract the GDP by 1.2% ($236 billion), according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Taken together, these measures would reduce economic activity, even as states begin to lift government-imposed lockdowns and unleashed nearly a year of pent-up demand. However, is working on ways to create an alternate economic reality. Biden’s “economic policy team has signaled that it will be the first administration ever to construct economic policy around issues like race, gender equality and climate change, rather than around traditional indicators like gross domestic product or deficit ratios,” Axios reported. Biden has already commissioned measures of to fuel this alternate economic narrative, signing an executive order that tasks federal bureaucrats with gauging the “social cost” of carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane.

Environment: Biden has already canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and announced plans to ban hydraulic fracking and coal mining on public lands, a move that puts him at odds with labor unions and portions of the industrialized Midwest that proved pivotal to his victory. His executive order threaded the needle, saying that Biden aims “to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs.”

Illegal immigration: “On day one I’m sending … to the United States Congress a bill to provide for a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people,” Biden told MSNBC last May – a priority reiterated by Klain’s memo. On his first day in office, January 20, Biden sent Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. The legisltaion would allow qualified members of the U.S. illegal immigrant population (which Yale University researchers place at 16 to 29 million) to apply for a green card after five years and to obtain U.S. citizenship eight years. It increases diversity visas from 55,000 to 80,000; confers the same immigration status on those in same-sex unions as those in traditional marriages; issues more green cards for those in low-wage industries; and sends $4 billion in foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to fight the “underlying causes” of illegal immigration.

Biden has extended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He promised to create a federal commission to reunite children separated from their parents at the border. “With its self-proclaimed “first order of business,” this administration will be the first and only administration in U.S. history to announce that its top priority is not for U.S. citizens, but for non-U.S. citizens,” wrote Mike Howell of the Heritage Foundation.

Abortion: Abortion has figured prominently in presidents’ first acts in office. This typically involves extending – or, in Biden’s case, repealing – the Mexico City Policy, which bans U.S. taxpayer funds from going to organizations that perform or promote abortion overseas. Biden is also slated to repeal the Protect Life Rule finalized in 2019, which bars any organization federal Title X funding if it plans to “perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.”

International organizations and agreements: Biden has already rejoined the World Health Organization in a bid to “restore our leadership on the world stage,” although he neither secured nor demanded any reforms from the organization. Biden fulfilled his campaign promise to “immediately reach out to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and ask him to continue his incredible service to our country,” extending the tyranny of COVID-19 experts. He had the U.S. become a signatory to the Paris Agreement, a treaty never ratified by the Senate. And he has signaled his desire to revive the Iran deal.

These actions represent merely a preview of Biden’s agenda for his first three-and-a-half months in office. As his first day in office proved, Biden’s team is more adept, savvy, and aggressive in promoting its vision than its predecessors.

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.