Saturday, May 21, 2022
May 21, 2022

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Leubsdorf: Biggest problem is still virus

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As Joe Biden nears the first anniversary of his presidency, he faces the same main challenge that confronted him at the outset: end the COVID pandemic and restore normalcy to American life.

His administration has succeeded in improving the nation’s health by vaccinating a majority of adults and many children against the virus. But its inconsistent messaging about added shots, its lack of follow-up on the need for more tests and continuing resistance to vaccinations by many Republicans have undercut the president’s efforts.

The fact that COVID remains Biden’s top challenge, despite his administration’s intensive efforts, exemplifies the frustration that has permeated this White House in recent months and sapped his standing with an electorate that wants results. Unfortunately, it is far from the only example:

  • Unemployment has dropped sharply, and a record number of jobs has been created. But the Biden administration’s failure to recognize and curb the worst inflation in 30 years has tempered public confidence in his handling of the economy.
  • Benefiting from his long Capitol Hill experience, Biden won congressional approval of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. But his third major measure, the $1.7 trillion package of social and environmental proposals, remains stalled, due to his own political overreach and months of Democratic in-fighting.
  • Biden has strongly condemned the laws that Republicans in many states have passed to make voting more difficult and revise election procedures, and he has pushed for federal legislation to counter them. But solid GOP resistance and the refusal of some Democrats to curb the Senate’s filibuster rule has made his efforts rhetorical, rather than impactful.
  • And though Biden kept his promise to end the nation’s longest war by removing the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan, his administration’s inept handling of the operation cast doubt on both his foreign policy reputation and his promise of restoring governmental competence.

It’s evident that, like some prior presidents, Biden’s aspirations exceeded his political clout. It might still be possible to pass a bill including a pre-kindergarten program, expanded Obamacare subsidies, expansion of Medicaid in states that resisted it, significant environmental measures, and a permanent child tax credit, perhaps limited to younger children and families with lower incomes.

These measures carry benefits for many Americans but, unfortunately for Biden, enacting them won’t make his administration a success unless it copes with the fact that the pandemic seems likely to become a permanent part of U.S. life.

That marks a significant change from last January’s hope that an extensive regimen of vaccinations could control it. Biden proclaimed last July 4 “we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence” from the pandemic — before the administration was caught off guard by first the delta variant and then the omicron strain.

The larger picture is that a lot has changed for the better in the last 12 months. The economy is stronger, the country healthier and most U.S. overseas relationships back to normal.

But Biden’s ultimate success still hinges on the degree his administration can control the pandemic and restore normalcy to American life.

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