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What exactly does US President-elect Joe Biden plan to do?

Climate, Coronavirus, and Brexit.

Image: Shutterstock/Alex Gakos

BIDEN’S MAIN MESSAGE along the campaign trail was majorly focused on getting the coronavirus pandemic under control in the US and healing the country’s deep divisions. 

But before the pandemic hit, he had laid out more substantial plans like addressing health care disparities, toughening gun control, overhauling policing, providing free community college, erasing student loan debt, investing in green energy and improving the nation’s infrastructure.

The US president-elect also rolled out plans that include a $700 billion investment in research and development in US tech firms and purchasing American goods, $2 trillion on a green energy ‘jobs and infrastructure’ plan and $775 billion in spending on care for children, older people and those with disabilities. 

From battling the coronavirus to rejoining the Paris climate agreement and immigration reform, the Biden presidency, he says, will change course on multiple fronts.

  • Covid-19

Biden says he will immediately put a national strategy in place to “get ahead” of the virus and end the pandemic crisis. That means a nationwide mask mandate and a plan that allows for free and widespread Covid-19 testing, boosting of US medical equipment manufacturing and making any future vaccine “free to everyone, whether or not you’re insured”. 

Having accused Trump of undermining his own health experts, Biden has pledged to keep respected White House coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci on board. 

He also says he wants to “take the muzzle off our experts” and cancel the process to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization, which Trump initiated in July.  

  • Economy 

Effectively reopening the economy is another immediate priority, says Biden.

The Democrat, relying on his experience wooing lawmakers from both political parties, will demand Congress agree on a huge coronavirus relief package to assist struggling families and ravaged small businesses. 

In July, Biden unveiled his “Build Back Better” strategy, a $700 billion blueprint to create millions of jobs. Financing would come through tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and on major corporations. Biden has also pledged to invest heavily in renewable energies.

  • Climate Change 

Biden has long called for comprehensive action to combat climate change in the United States, battered by growing numbers of hurricanes and wildfires in recent years. 

“The first thing I will do, I will rejoin the Paris accord,” Biden promised during his debut debate against Trump, who exited the landmark global agreement in 2017. “Because with us out, look what’s happening. It’s all falling apart.”

Biden says he would also convene a climate summit of the world’s leading polluters to “persuade” them to make more ambitious pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

Biden has adopted an ambitious $2 trillion climate change plan including a “clean energy revolution” that aims to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide no later than 2050.

He also promised to quickly reverse several of Trump’s rollbacks of regulations on environmental standards.

  • Judicial reform

Biden has promised to quickly appoint a bipartisan national commission that would have 180 days to study the judicial system – which the Democrat said is “getting out of whack” – and propose reforms. 

He has said he is “not a fan” of expanding the US Supreme Court beyond its current nine members.  But other Democrats have expressed a clear preference for the move now that Trump’s third nominee to the bench, Amy Coney Barrett, has been confirmed, cementing its six-three conservative majority.

supreme-court-barrett-first-day Source: Patrick Semansky/pa

Biden, who authored numerous tough-on-crime bills when he was a senator, has also called for sweeping criminal justice reform.

His plans include creating a grant programme that encourages states to reduce incarceration and crime, ensuring housing for formerly incarcerated individuals and strategies to reduce repeat offending. 

  • Immigration 

Biden promised a substantial set of immigration reforms prior to winning the White House.

He announced he would immediately create a federal task force to reunite more than 500 children who were taken from their parents by the Trump administration at the US-Mexico border. 

He said he will also rescind the travel bans that prohibit foreign nationals from several majority Muslim countries from entering the United States.

One of his more controversial steps could be action on the millions of undocumented people living in the United States.

“Within 100 days, I’m going to send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people,” Biden said in his final debate with Trump, on 22 October. 

He also pledged to let children who entered the country with their parents illegally – a group of about 700,000 young people known as Dreamers – to legally stay and take steps toward US citizenship.

Will he get any of it done? 

Democrats appear to have retained control the House — albeit with a very thin majority — but much of Biden’s agenda could come down to the Senate. 

Democrats needed to pick up three Senate seats to secure a 50-50 split, which looked unlikely early on in the race.

That split would allow Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to act as tie-breaker in any Senate votes until, at least, the 2022 mid-term elections.

Today, it looks like the Democrats look to have picked up one of the three needed. However, two crucial races in Georgia are heading to run-offs, which means a result won’t be decided until 5 January.

If the Democrats lose those run-offs, Biden will face a much different balance of power than he did with Barack Obama back in 2008.

But while Obama came into power with a significant House and Senate majority, Democrats still underwent months of legislative wrangling with Republicans in the minority. 

Biden’s aides have said that the overlapping crises — the pandemic, the economic downturn and the demand for criminal justice reform — lend an urgency to reform that did not exist when Obama was in office, but because of the steep cost of his proposals, Biden may face resistance from most Republicans, and some Democrats, because of the steep cost of his proposals.

cvn-democrats Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

behind-the-scenes-with-president-barack-obama Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Many in the Biden camp are hopeful that his decades of experience on Capitol Hill and reputation as a deal maker will help him broker compromises and build coalitions on both sides of the aisle.

However, these collations will no doubt bring competing pressure from progressives and moderates, and a possible split within the Democratic party on key issues such as climate change and education.

What’s in it for us? 

Dubbed the ‘Son of Ballina’, it is hoped that Biden’s Irish ties will make him an Irish ally when it comes to Brexit. 

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently told his party colleagues that Biden will be positive for Ireland as someone who has a genuine personal attachment to the country beyond “just a golf resort”.

He said Biden has shown an interest in Brexit and its impact on Ireland, particularly what it means for the Good Friday Agreement.

Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats have been strong on upholding the Good Friday Agreement before any talk of a UK-US free trade deal begins.  

Under Trump’s presidency, work had already begun on a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal. Biden has previously shown disdain for Boris Johnson – describing him as a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump – so the future of that trade deal is uncertain for now. 

us-vice-president-visit-to-ireland Source: Niall Carson/pa

us-vice-president-visit-to-ireland Source: Barry Cronin/PA

Brexit aside, the Biden presidency is unlikely to be much different than Trump’s, Frank Barry, Professor of International Business & Economic Development at TCD previously told TheJournal.ie.

There are talks of Biden tinkering with the margins of the corporate tax regime that Trump instituted in 2017 -  which took on board many aspects of Democratic Party proposal -  but Barry believes the Biden administration won’t change much except raise the corporation tax rates somewhat “because Trump’s was an absolute giveaway to corporations”.

However, Barry said another leaked Biden tax proposal may prove devastating to Ireland and its relationships with multinationals.

Part of the Biden proposals that was leaked was to essentially to impose a minimum tax on American multinational companies abroad. Barry said that rather than calculating the minimum tax liable on these companies overseas, they have to be calculated as a minimum tax per location, “so, that would really damage us”.

“The way it is at the moment is multinationals can essentially ‘mix’ the tax they pay in a high tax jurisdiction with the taxes they pay in a low tax jurisdiction like Ireland, and that’s what they have to balance against the US minimum tax clause.”

- With reporting from AFP 

About the author:

Adam Daly

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