Biden’s First Year in Office: Certainly Not Transitional, But Not Transformational

President Joe Biden’s first-year performance was not transformational by standards set by the left, meaning that he failed to deliver on key improvements to and lowering the cost of healthcare and implementing major climate change reform, even if the pending Build Back Better Plan (watered down) is passed between now and the midterm.

At the same time, Biden is not a mere transitional president that the right had expected. He scored big early in the year with the American Rescue Plan (ARP) that was the much-needed boost millions of Americans and state government needed to stay afloat from the dismal economic fallout from 2020. That Rescue Plan helped to balance state government budgets, support businesses, save safety net programs, fund unemployment and provide a much-needed stimulus check that went a long way to aid Americans pay for basic necessities like food, utilities and for some, rent. Mind you, the American Rescue Plan was met with acrimony by Republicans who saw it as overspending. The legislation cost $1.9 trillion, the largest relief effort in American history. Zero Republicans voted for the bill. Yet, as the benefits became apparent with businesses and state government applauding the boost they got from ARP, many Republicans attempted to take credit for ARP.

Biden scored big once again at the end of the year by signing into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), $1.2 trillion in spending to go toward federal-aid highway, transit, rail, hazardous materials, research, and many other projects that will create millions of jobs, bolster labor unions and to an extent address climate change.

Both bills, of course passed by Congress, had to have required nudging, arm twisting and deal-making from the bully pulpit, the executive office, with both passing by the slimmest of margins. So the scoreboard for 2021 is Biden accomplishing 2-of-3 of his agenda he set upon taking his oath to become the nation’s 46th president. The third, BBB, failed at the last minute in December.

Poor approval rating, but is it really?
A December 2021 CNBC/Change Research Poll shows 56% of voters say they disapprove of the job Biden is doing, the worst such reading of his presidency since taking office.  Prior polls in the series showed Biden’s disapproval rating at 54% in early September and 49% in April.

Biden’s approval rating is now at 44%, down from 46% in September and 51% in April.

Among the top frustrations cited in the poll were price acceleration and inflation, the failure of Build Back Better and climate-and-family legislation, failure to lower the cost of healthcare and concern over Covid cases, specifically omicron. But highest among them, the main culprit behind Biden’s flagging popularity, is unhappiness with the economy.

Some of the complaints are certainly valid, specifically the failure to get Build Back Better passed which would have addressed some of the concerns on climate change and lowering the cost of healthcare.

On Covid, it’s hard to fault the president. Republicans, who are Biden’s biggest critics driving down his approval numbers, actually voted against funding (American Rescue Plan) the vaccination program and vaccines distribution. A vast majority of unvaccinated are Republicans. Yet, Republicans are complaining about his leadership in handling Covid without offering anything in solutions or being active participants (by getting vaccinated) in defanging Covid. The legitimate complaint on Biden when it comes to Covid is that he wasn’t forceful enough in mandating federal vaccinations, if anything.

On inflation, market forces such as supply and businesses setting their own profit margin traditionally are responsible for the consumer price index, not government.

As for the economy, Biden could reasonably be held partially responsible as much as big corporations should be held responsible. American consumers are also not spending (some self-blame is in order) as much due to Covid. Consumer spending went up only after a few months of the Delta outbreak. Economists expect Omicron also to drive down spending temporarily. The good news is the massive boost expected from the Infrastructure bill has yet to kick in. By the end of the first quarter 2022, revisiting the jobs and economy performance will be more telling.

But ultimately political analysts make a poignant point about today’s presidential approval/disapproval rating – they reflect today’s heightened polarization. Biden’s current 44% approval rating is actually considered high in today’s political climate. Bush W., who had the highest average approval rating at 49%, came at a time when there was some bipartisanship, especially following the 9/11 attacks when the country came together.

Grade B for Biden
Besides a slight above average (B) performance in getting major legislations passed, Biden has provided stability and competence in one of the most tumultuous times in modern history with an ongoing pandemic and amidst the aftermath of a politically toxic environment led by a former president who did nothing but to create chaos, fear, division and instability. Remember Trump’s approval rating dipped to a record low, 34%, and his average for his entire term was a dismal 41%.

The far right, now the dominant faction of the Republican party, want nothing more than to see Biden fail to clear the way for a Trump rerun. Seriously? Imagine what 2021 would have been like under Trump – a far worst alternative

Biden’s biggest failure
Republicans say Americans voted for a “transitional” president. It’s doubtful that any president aims for such a low bar, “transitional!” Perhaps Biden’s biggest failure is not throwing his support behind ending or at least reforming the Senate filibuster, which is now being looked at very closely. Biden has been mostly silent on the filibuster for the most part, which meant he wasn’t in support of it. If he had come out strongly for making changes to the filibuster immediately like in February, perhaps it would have been a different situation entirely – BBB would have become law (and not the watered-down version currently pending), as well as a national election bill, and other major legislation sitting at the Senate.

It’s fair to say Biden did squander to an extent the rare unified government (when one party controls the presidency and both chambers of Congress) that Democrats held by his overly finesse leadership. We shall see if Biden gets another chance after the midterm election for a continued unified government and is actually capable of hardball leadership.

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