President-elect Joe Biden will inherit dueling crises when he takes office on Wednesday, with plans to usher in a sweeping agenda that addresses the raging coronavirus pandemic and the economic catastrophe that it triggered.
Biden has said he intends to use executive orders to accomplish some of his goals during the first 100 days of his presidency — including, after his inauguration, extending an eviction moratorium and forbearance on student loan payments — but some moves require congressional approval, such as the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal he outlined last week.
“President-elect Biden is assuming the presidency in a moment of profound crisis for our nation," Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, said in a Saturday memo to future White House staff. "We face four overlapping and compounding crises: the COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis and a racial equity crisis."
Biden is planning a slew of executive actions for his first days, including rejoining the Paris climate accord, reversing the Trump administration's travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries and requiring that people wear masks on federal property — part of a broader effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
The incoming president has also pledged to deliver 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days and reopen most K-8 schools during that same period.
He has also promised to work with Congress to pass another massive coronavirus relief package, which would include $20 billion to accelerate vaccine distribution, a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits through the end of September, a one-time $1,400 stimulus check and a temporary expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
While top Democrats endorsed Biden's stimulus proposal, a number of deficit-weary Republicans have said the aid package is too expensive, foreshadowing a looming battle between lawmakers over federal spending. On Tuesday, during Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing to be Treasury secretary, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., warned Biden's plan "would be a colossal waste and economically harmful.”
While most bills need to achieve a 60-vote threshold in order to advance in the Senate, Democrats could use a process known as budget reconciliation to pass the measure using their slimmest-possible majority. Biden has indicated that he wants the legislation to receive the bipartisan support necessary to pass in the upper chamber.
Democrats will control the Senate by the thinnest of margins after twin victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Georgia runoff elections last week clinched the party a 50-50 split in the upper chamber, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote. Democrats hold a slim 222-to-211 advantage in the House.
There are limits on what legislation qualifies for reconciliation and how frequently the process can be used.
More than 400,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 and more than 24.2 million have been infected, the most in the world. Lockdown measures adopted across the country to curb the spread of the virus have cost millions of Americans their jobs.