Biden's big bet on Big Government

Biden's big bet on Big Government

There are many differences between America's two main political parties, but the most fundamental is this: Democrats say government can and should act boldly to improve people's lives and strengthen the nation. Republicans insist that government itself poses the greatest threat to individual liberty and the nation's lasting competitive strength. The past 100 days make crystal-clear which side of that argument President Joe Biden lives on.

Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s seemed to finally settle this question in favor of less government. Bill Clinton, the first post-Reagan Democrat in the White House, famously told Congress in 1996 that "the era of big government is over." A generation later, outside of his ambitious healthcare reform plan, fellow Democrat Barack Obama was notably cautious on this question.

But the pandemic has given Biden an opportunity to show government can go big. Historically big.


Biden has focused almost entirely on two priorities: COVID vaccinations and economic recovery. Thanks in part to groundwork laid by the Trump administration, the president's focus on the pandemic has helped the United States become a vaccine success story. Biden first got a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan through Congress. Later he proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill and the so-called American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion investment which includes both tax breaks and deep investment in education.

Biden's pandemic stimulus plan was about two and a half times larger than the plan his former boss Obama proposed in response to the global financial crisis despite much larger Democratic majorities in both houses in 2009. In fact, no US president has proposed anything on this scale since the days of World War II and the Marshall Plan. Biden has also announced his intention to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest in US history, by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks later this year.

Politically, this strategy is working. Polling from Fox News, CNN, NBC, Washington Post-ABC, and Monmouth all give Biden solid favorability scores and place support for his plans in the mid-60s. A recent CBS/YouGov poll found that 77 percent support the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Investors seem to like these plans too. The US stock market closed Biden's first 100 days in office with the strongest start to a presidential term since Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. All of this encourages Democrats to hope that their core voters, weary of their caution, will reward their boldness.

But Biden knows it would be foolish to declare that the era of "big government is over" is now over, and his ambitious push is less a sign of strength than of urgency. Unlike under similarly ambitious presidents of the past, like Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, Democrats have razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress. Clinton (1994) and Obama (2010) saw their party suffer blowout losses in their first midterm elections. If they lose control of either house in November 2022, Biden's window of opportunity will close until at least 2025.

The new president knows he hasn't won over GOP lawmakers or voters — just 11 percent of Republicans think he's doing a good job — and that the electoral college and control of state legislatures give Republicans important and lasting electoral advantages.

There are also distractions and dangers ahead. Much of what Biden has proposed so far can be achieved without Republican support, but that's not true for gun restrictions or immigration, a subject that Republican voters consider a priority and which Biden hasn't done much about. Racism poses challenges well beyond the powers of any policymaker, and even passage of a new voting rights act will be a heavy lift. And the withdrawal from Afghanistan will not go smoothly if Taliban forces become more aggressive before US troops have left.

Finally, economic expectations are now sky-high, consumer sentiment is on the rise, and any failure to sustain what has been billed as a coming boom will weigh on Biden's popularity.

Presidential terms are judged on what is accomplished over 1,461 days, not 100. Much of what Biden has proposed remains in the blueprint stage, and the end of the pandemic will leave many Americans less reliant on government action.

Bottom line: The debate over government's proper role in American life has raged since the early days of the republic, and that fight will continue. Biden has months, not years, to make his case for a more activist federal government. Eras in American politics don't last as long as they used to, and Republicans are waiting anxiously in the wings.

Eni is helping to bring stable energy sources to the communities of Ghana. This means vaccines for children can now be safely stored, businesses can operate more efficiently, and the economy, as a whole, is strengthened and improved.

Watch to learn how Eni helps businesses grow and build for the future.

This week, the US Senate passed the so-called Endless Frontier Act, a $250 billion investment in development of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the manufacture of semiconductors, and other tech-related sectors. The goal is to harness the combined power of America's public and private sectors to meet the tech challenges posed by China.

In its current form, this is the biggest diversion of public funds into the private sector to achieve strategic goals in many decades. The details of this package, and of the Senate vote, say a lot about US foreign-policy priorities and this bill's chances of becoming law.

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What do America's policies around the world mean for jobs, the economy, and the future of the country's future? This Tuesday, June 15. at 11 am ET, GZERO Media presents a a live discussion on trade, immigration, and how domestic issues like racism and deep partisan divides impact America's standing in the world. Our event, which is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, is free and open to the public. Please register to attend.

Judy Woodruff, anchor of the PBS NewsHour, will moderate the conversation with:

  • Donna Edwards, Member of Congress (2008-2017)
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
  • Miriam Sapiro, Managing Director, Sard Verbinnen & Co. (SVC) and Former Acting and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
  • Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Advisor, New America

Special appearance by Governor Thomas H. Kean, Chairman of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | 11 am - 12:30 pm ET

Register to attend

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Listen: Is there a path to democracy for Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus? Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya discusses her hopes and fears for the country with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World Podcast. President Alexander Lukashenko has maintained a tight grip on power in Belarus for the last 26 years and rigged the results of his last election which led to widespread protest and unrest in his country, though few consequences globally. But will he now be held accountable after diverting a flight between two European capitals to arrest a dissident journalist? And just how close are he and Vladimir Putin?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Nigeria's federal government earlier this month blocked Twitter from the country's mobile networks, after the social media company deleted a controversial post from President Muhammadu Buhari's account. The move by Africa's largest and most populous economy comes as many governments around the world are putting increased pressure on social media companies, with serious implications for free speech.

So what actually happened in Nigeria, and how does it fit in with broader trends on censorship and social media regulation? Eurasia Group analysts Amaka Anku and Tochi Eni-Kalu explain.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

What's the significance of the US-China bill, competition bill that passed the Senate earlier this week?

Well, the bill is a major investment in American technology, research and development, semiconductor manufacturing, and it's designed to push back on the China Made in 2025 push that lawmakers have become increasingly worried about in recent years. The opinion in Washington has shifted from seeing China as a strategic competitor to a strategic rival. And you're seeing what's now likely to be one of the only bipartisan bills in Congress now pushing back on that. Significant money for semiconductors in this bill, even though some of it was set aside for automotive purposes. That money's not going to come online fast enough to really make a difference to the current global semiconductor shortage, but it will help build up US long-term spending capacity and manufacturing capacity in semiconductors.

Other aspects of the bill, banned the application TikTok from going on government devices out of security concerns, created new sanctions authorities around Xinjiang and Hong Kong for human rights abuses, and mandated a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, which is probably going to happen anyway once the Biden administration is able to align with its allies. Let the athletes play. Don't let any high level delegations go. This is probably the only bipartisan bill to happen this year, yet still, half of Senate Republicans voted against it because they were opposed to the kind of industrial policy they think this represents, but it does show the area where there's bipartisan agreement in a city that's very, very divided right now. China is the bad guy and Congress is moving in that direction.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What do you expect from President Biden's first European trip since taking office?

Well, first, it will be sort of reconnecting with Europe, reconnecting with the European Union, with NATO, with the partners in the G7, and going really from the initial message, which was, "we are back," to a more concrete message, "here is what we could potentially do together." That is the expectations. And let's see how it turns out.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

When President Biden and President Putin meet, will cybersecurity will be a key issue that they discuss?

Now, I'm sure that there will be many thorny issues on the table. But after American fingers pointed to Russia and hold it responsible for the SolarWinds hack, it's likely. Criminals in Russia were also not hindered when they held the Colonial Pipeline Company ransom through a ransomware attack. And really, when journalists and opposition leaders cannot speak a single critical word without being caught, how come cybercriminals can act with impunity in Russia? So the need for prevention and accountability really is significant. And I hope the President Biden can push and persuade Putin to change the confrontational and aggressive course that he is on.

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Watch "Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans" live on Tuesday, June 15 |  11 AM – 12:30 pm ET

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Watch "Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans" live on Tuesday, June 15 |  11 AM – 12:30 pm ET

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal