Although a Republican-controlled Senate would most likely be a major obstacle to getting President-elect Joe Biden’s economic agenda through, he could still make progress in providing financial relief to millions of Americans pushed out of work by the coronavirus induced economic crisis.
When top Democrats refused to accept his stimulus package offer in August, President Trump issued an executive order to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, authorizing the federal government to pay $300 per week for people on unemployment. That was just one of the 194 executive orders Trump has issued since he’s been president. And Biden could use the same tool to provide aid to workers by, for instance, leveraging the federal government’s procurement power to raise wages.
“There are a number of administrative actions that could help [Biden] accomplish quite a bit of his agenda,” Congressional Oversight Commission member Bharat Ramamurti told Yahoo Finance. “That’s not to say that he should abandon legislation. Of course, there are many things that can only be accomplished through legislation and it’s worth trying.” (The Congressional Oversight Commission, established as part of the CARES Act, is a bipartisan group overseeing how the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are using taxpayer funds from the CARES Act.)
“But if the Republican Senate is totally uncooperative like we saw with President Obama, then I think rather than bang your head against the wall, it’s useful to use whatever tools you do have to make as much progress as you can,” Ramamurti, who is a Democrat, said.
Leveraging federal procurement power
Biden can leverage federal contracts and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for federal workers, said Ramamurti.
“[Biden] could impose new rules for federal contractors,” said Ramamurti. “A quarter of all U.S. workers work for a company that has a federal contract. So you can actually impose pretty sweeping changes on a huge chunk of the American workforce by just working through federal contractors.”
Biden’s labor plan forbids union-busting activities by employers who receive federal funds. Ramamurti explains that the president-elect could require that companies respect certain rules if they want federal contracts. For instance, they could be compelled to respect workers’ efforts to unionize.
Biden could also choose to deny federal contracts to companies that have a bad track record of worker safety as a way of deterring that kind of behavior, said Ramamurti.
Cancelling student loan debt
Biden has called for up to $10,000 in student loan debt forgiveness per borrower.
A new acting education secretary – without having Senate confirmation – could step in and implement this plan and provide immediate relief to millions of Americans, said Ramamurti, who also serves as managing director of the Corporate Power Program at the Roosevelt Institute.
“This kind of cancellation would be good for the economy, it would be good for the 45 million people that have student loan debt, and cancelling some of that debt would make a tangible and immediate impact in people’s lives,” said Ramamurti.
“At the end of the day, [Americans] care less about the process and more about whether things are getting better in their lives or not,” he said.
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