Joe’s 100-day plan

M Ziauddin

THE incoming US President, Joe Biden has an ambitious 100-day plan aimed at cleansing America as well as the world of the catastrophic four years of Trump.

Domestically, he would probably need more than 100 days—perhaps almost his entire term to cope with the problem of white supremacism simmering underneath the country’s democratic pretensions for perhaps many decades but which came up-front with a bang during the short Trump era.

But more than that, in the first 100 days the President would have to come up with a strategy to overcome the problem of Covid-19 which has been taking a toll of a vast number of American lives every month since its invasion. And at the same time, the President would also need to take concrete steps to revive the economy. And above all, he would need to make Pentagon resist the temptation of going to war against China in any of the global theatres ‘to protect and promote’ America’s global hegemony which China is effectively challenging both economically as well as militarily.

Nearly 400,000 Americans have succumbed to Covid-19 so far and almost 24 million have contracted the virus. High unemployment and many business failures weigh heavily on the American middle class. Compared to pre-pandemic times, ten million more people are currently out of work. Last week alone, more than one million people registered as unemployed.

Stimulus packages to fight the consequences of the pandemic totalling more than $4 trillion have so far failed to really revive the economy and the labour market. That’s because more than half of the aid is said to have gone to companies in the form of tax breaks and wage subsidies, many of which did not have to prove any negative impact from the pandemic. Just under $860bn, a good fifth went to workers and families. Only about 15 per cent was spent on fighting the pandemic itself.

No political leadership was believed have been seen at the national level during Donald Trump’s presidency, nor any sense of community in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. The Pandemic is said to have thrown into bold relief the already existing social and economic disparities, societal injustice and the inhumane distortions of the health care system.

According to Knut Dethlefsen (Joe Biden’s 100-day recovery plan published on Jan. 20, 2021, in the newsletter from International Politics and Society), Biden wants to turn the tide and address both the health and economic crises. It’s clear that programmes to expand and better coordinate nationwide measures in the fight against the pandemic and its consequences are urgently needed. One in three adults nationwide is said to be struggling to pay regular household expenses.

The failure of the outgoing administration seemingly weighs heavily on the country’s future. Despite the crisis, the new administration needs not only to alleviate hardship in the short term but also needs to set a crucial course and help shape the structural changes in the country that the Covid-19 crisis has rendered out of shape. This includes, first and foremost, restoring confidence among all US citizens in the government action.

The $1.9 trillion ‘Build Back Better’ bailout plan that the Democrats plan to introduce to Congress includes direct cash payments to the majority of workers, expanded unemployment insurance, rent subsidies, food assistance and government aid to small businesses.

The package also includes a doubling of the minimum wage to $15. If the measures are successfully implemented, twelve million Americans are expected to be lifted out of poverty and child poverty could be halved.

The rescue plan is seemingly intended as an immediate measure to be followed by further, longer-term legislative initiatives. $400bn is to be used to fight the corona pandemic with a national vaccination programme and the expansion of free testing and tracking.

This is expected to make it possible to reopen public schools. More than $1 trillion have been announced as direct payments to households or families. This includes an increased one-time payment of $2,000 for all households below a certain income threshold as well as an increase in unemployment benefits to $400 per week with a possible eligibility period until September this year.

These concrete transfers are said to have a lot of support among the US population. Even Donald Trump supported the increased one-time payments in December. Another $440bn are planned as grants to states, municipalities and small businesses.

With the overall package, a way out of the economic crisis is finally said to be in sight. With the provision of vaccines, which are to be used on a large scale in 2021, America hopes, the health and economic catastrophe can be stopped.

By mid-January, only just over eleven million Americans are said to have been vaccinated (about 3.5% of the total population), although 29 million vaccine doses were already available.

President Biden has promised that 100 million vaccine doses will have been administered by the end of his first 100 days in office. He said his administration will do everything in its power to achieve these goals.

Public opinion is said to be on Biden’s side, for the time being. According to a recent PEW survey, 58%of all Americans approve of Biden and his plans. 57% approve of his government formation and his appointments to high government offices. And 46% of those surveyed believe that Joe Biden will improve the work of the federal government.

If he succeeds with his programme, he should continue to gain in the polls. But he doesn’t have time to lose. To implement the bailout plan, the new president needs the support of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the Senate, he will probably have to make concessions and take into account the special demands of individual senators, as every single vote counts because of the tight balance of power.

Some or possibly even much of this will be met with Republican resistance. However, it is also possible that some Republicans will support Biden to prove their own ability to act and govern.

— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.

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