One takeaway from the media coverage in the week following President Biden’s State of the Union Address is that facts without hype, a serious approach to complicated problems, and a mature acceptance of realities are a hard sell following the last administration’s rollercoaster ride of thrills and chills, lies and flimflam. Perhaps it is time to list the actual accomplishments of the first year of the Biden-led recovery after four years of humiliating pratfalls.
First, there have been amazing, historic improvements in the lives of the American people, especially the most vulnerable; second, the human, physical, and governmental infrastructure for future growth has been laid, despite Republican intransigence; and, not least important, the United States has again assumed its leadership in the world, opposing autocrats trying to impose their will on other sovereign nations and their own citizens despite international norms.
All Americans benefited during Biden’s first year in office from an economy that grew at the strongest rate in nearly 40 years, in large part due to the American Rescue Plan. As Biden said in his speech, his plan differed from the $2 trillion tax cut of the previous administration that benefitted only the top 1% of Americans. Thanks to Biden’s fairer plan, which rejected the Republican ideologists’ “trickle-down” tricks, we now have the lowest child poverty ever, 6.4 million new jobs, rising wages, the fastest decline in unemployment for decades (just 3.9% in December—the lowest level since 1963), and 5 million more people with healthcare. He turned COVID fighting back over to the scientists and doctors, now 63% of Americans are fully vaccinated, nearly all schools have in-person instruction, and the CDC no longer prescribes mask mandates in many places. Hundreds of thousands of tests have been distributed, and new medical interventions are available for free.
Secondly, having inherited hollowed-out institutions, incapable of responding to domestic and foreign challenges, the President has quickly moved to beef up his bench. He has appointed 41 federal judges in his opening year, double those appointed by his predecessor and the most since Ronald Reagan in 1981. He has nominated more than 80 federal judges, including the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. His judicial appointments better represent America: 80% are women and 53% are people of color. His cabinet is likewise more representative of the racial and gender makeup of the United States than any previous president’s. President Biden has preserved the careers of the 8,980 transgender troops, overturning an April 2019 ban on transgender volunteers serving their country.
The physical infrastructure of the United States is also finally being upgraded. After the previous president grandstanded with the infrastructure for weeks and months that accomplished nothing, Biden led a bipartisan effort in Congress which approved a $1.2 trillion package to rebuild the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport, and national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems. The bill prioritizes spending in the United States and the employment of unionized, well-paid labor. Fifteen Nobel Prize-winning economists backed the bill. If the Federal Reserve can be brought to full strength, by the Senate’s approval of two new members, and profiteering can be countered, the economy is expected to overcome the inflationary impact of fuel price increases resulting from Russian actions in Ukraine, and COVID distortions of the economy.
Finally, the United States has reassumed leadership in the world. Our politicians are no longer talking of leaving NATO but are deftly using that alliance to shore up the member countries threatened by a rapacious and unhinged Russia. Working closely with allies throughout the world, we have successfully cut Russia off from the international financial system and drastically curtailed its energy sales and prospects for future development. President Biden hosted a conference on democracy, highlighting US commitment to human and civic rights at the same time that Russia and China demonstrated their disregard for those rights by imprisoning more citizens than ever and cracking down on modern communications channels. World opinion noticed.
The Biden/Harris Administration has also led internationally to counter climate change, taking executive action to restore science, tackle the climate crisis, and rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. Biden formed the first-ever National Climate Task Force to prioritize acting on climate change throughout the entire federal government. He convened the first-ever Leaders Summit on Climate, a historic gathering of more than 40 world leaders, as well as the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, at which we pledged to quadruple international climate finance. Most recently, the White House rolled out a plan to allocate $5 billion so that states can fund electric vehicle chargers over 5 years as part of the bipartisan infrastructure package.
This list of Biden/Harris achievements is only partial but suggests that this current Administration will be remembered as having accomplished a series of historic firsts from day one. History will recall that reinforcing the dignity and value of all this nation’s citizens, the Biden presidency brought the United States back to its accustomed place as first among the world’s problem-solvers.
—Cynthia Efird, Member, Foreign Policy & National Security Task Force