In his first 10 days in office, President Joe Biden took nearly 40 presidential actions, including 25 executive orders meant to kick off his policy agenda. These are the “Day 1” actions all presidential candidates promise as a robust beginning to what they hope will be a momentous term in office.
Some of Biden’s early actions are symbolic, such as his call for a “national day of unity.” But some could be consequential. Two orders in particular from this week could have a major impact on the economy, and beyond.
Health coverage for 15 million uninsured Americans
One of them is a plan to let people who need health insurance sign up for an Affordable Care Act plan outside the normal enrollment period. Biden invoked a portion of the 2010 law allowing the president to make changes under “exceptional circumstances,” such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The normal enrollment period is at the end of each calendar year, but Biden is creating a special three-month enrollment period that will run from Feb. 15 to May 15 of this year. He’s also allocating $50 million to promote the change so people know about it.
Former President Donald Trump could have done something similar, since the surge in unemployment after the pandemic exploded last March has left some Americans without insurance that used to be provided by their employers. Trump, however, was hostile to the ACA. He tried to kill the whole law during his four-year term and essentially zeroed out all funding for promotion and support.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 15 million Americans who are uninsured could take advantage of the special enrollment period. About four 4 million could qualify for free coverage, after subsidies. Another 4.9 million, with higher incomes, could get discounted coverage, with 6 million eligible for plans without a subsidy. This is meaningful help Biden can offer to struggling Americans without waiting for Congressional legislation.
A big move to address global warming
Biden’s other big move this week was an order on climate policy that‘s a blueprint for his multifaceted approach to reducing carbon pollution and addressing global warming. It has provisions across many Cabinet departments, including a call for new analyses on how climate change affects U.S. national security. The order begins the process of transforming the government’s fleet of 600,000 vehicles to all-electric cars and trucks. Biden will host a high-profile summit meeting on Earth Day, April 22, to highlight further climate goals.
Biden is also taking on the oil and gas industry, eliminating any doubts that he’s willing to risk alienating CEOs and workers in a key American industry. As Biden promised as a candidate, the climate order suspends new drilling permits on public land, which will curtail numerous projects. The order calls on Cabinet agencies to find ways to reduce subsidies oil and gas firms are sometimes entitled to. Biden will also ask Congress for new legislation to kill fossil-fuel subsidies, which would go much further than Biden can go administratively.
Biden is making some enemies. States such as New Mexico rely heavily on tax income from drilling projects on federal land, and they’re anticipating revenue shortfalls they’ll have to make up in other ways. Less drilling also means fewer of the good-paying jobs oil and gas projects provide. Biden says green-energy projects will provide far more jobs than those lost in carbon industries, but those jobs are in the future. Voters tend not to be particularly patient, especially if they see jobs disappearing.
One last shot at a partisan bill
A few more executive orders will probably follow in coming weeks, but Biden is now turning to legislation he hopes will do the heavy lifting for his policy agenda. It looks as if Democrats are giving up on the idea of getting bipartisan support from some Republicans on the $1.9 trillion relief bill Biden is gunning for, which has a couple major implications. Democrats can still pass the bill by a one-vote majority in the Senate, as long as every single Democrat supports it. That’ll probably happen, and the price tag could be close to Biden’s ask — considerably more spending than if Dems have to compromise with Republicans to get their support.
But passing the bill with a bare majority in the Senate requires the use of the “reconciliation” process, which comes with restrictions. The Democratic plan for a $15 minimum wage probably won’t make it to the finish line. And the Senate can only use reconciliation once per fiscal year, which means Team Biden may try to cram even more goodies into their huge 2021 bill, since it’s the last shot for a partisan bill until fiscal 2022 begins in October.
Biden will then have to prioritize what type of big legislation he wants to go for in a second reconciliation bill. Fully implementing his climate plan will require a lot of money appropriated by Congress for new energy investments, tax credits, and green infrastructure. But Biden also wants new legislation on health reform, affordable housing, elder care, and child care, and tax hikes to pay for some of it. He won’t get all of that by the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans have a fair chance to take control of one or both houses of Congress. The clock is ticking fast.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: email@example.com. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.