The following editorial originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times:
Three times already in his brief tenure, President Joe Biden has rolled out a far-reaching and extraordinarily expensive proposal to address large-scale problems in this country. First there was a $1.9 trillion plan to help individuals and businesses cope with the surging COVID-19 pandemic. Then there was a $2 trillion blueprint to build and repair American infrastructure, defined in unusually broad terms. Now comes a $1.8 trillion boost to programs that help American families, particularly those with low and moderate incomes.
The point of these efforts, Biden told a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, is to create millions of good-paying jobs for working-class Americans, and to help prepare the next generation for the competition to come.
These legislative proposals came on top of dozens of executive orders Biden has issued to target an array of problems related to climate change, immigration, gun violence, discrimination and healt care, among other major issues.
For someone belittled during the campaign for allegedly having little energy and no ideas of his own, Biden has been remarkably active, ambitious and, for lack of a better word, wonky. But his work has given rise to a new criticism: that Biden has abandoned his campaign pledge to unify the country and make a hopelessly polarized government functional again. In the eyes of his Republican and right-of-center critics, the moderate Biden who won the presidency has been replaced by a radical.
That’s news to progressive Democrats, whose calls for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and the elimination of college debt have yet to bear much, if any, fruit. Here’s a far better framework for understanding Biden’s first 100 days: He’s trying to adapt the federal government quickly to the needs of a 21st century United States after two decades of distraction, recession and withdrawal. Like President Eisenhower launching a federal interstate highway system in Cold War America, Biden is trying to gird the country for a world that is warming, globally connected and hampered by debilitating inequities.
It’s a big job, made more difficult by the vast partisan divide. But (to borrow a Biden phrase) here’s the thing: These are mainstream issues. We all have a stake in solving these problems.
Biden told Congress that he’s open to GOP ideas, but cautioned, “The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us. Doing nothing is not an option. We can’t be so busy competing with one another that we forget the competition is with the rest of the world to win the 21st century.”
Republicans can’t credibly argue that Biden is being polarizing simply because he doesn’t cling to their antiquated view of reality. We can’t pretend that roads and bridges are the only things holding up our economy, or that we can fight poverty and build the middle class without better child care, more effective schools and more access to higher education.
The sheer size of Biden’s proposals has been remarkable, but put that in perspective. This country has a giant backlog of deferred maintenance work, not just on its crumbling asphalt, but on adapting its support system to today’s economy. The longer we wait to act, the bigger the ultimate bill will be. And with an election coming up next year that could end Democrats’ slim majorities in Congress, Biden has no time to waste.