The Biden Boom has begun. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that the United States will see 6.5 percent GDP growth in 2021—a mark that would eclipse most postwar presidents. Harry Truman set the record with 8.6 percent growth in 1950. President Obama only compiled 2.6 percent in 2015, his best year. President Trump’s top year was 3 percent in 2018—and worst was a whopping minus 3.7 percent in 2020.
With his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, Biden is set to juice the economy for the next two years. The legislation includes a raft of measures that ensure a return to the era of big government, something that American voters appear to object to in theory but not in practice. It’s both an economic and political victory for him. If he wants to thank anyone for it, Biden should lavish his appreciation on Trump. Absent Trump’s meddling in the Georgia elections, the Democrats would likely not have won two Senate races and control of the chamber. None of Biden’s successes, including confirmation of most of his cabinet choices, would be possible without control of the Senate.
With a Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans would have been able to rerun the obstructionist playbook that worked well against Obama. While McConnell was unable to prevent Obama from being reelected, he managed to tie him up in legislative knots after the GOP rolled to victory during the mid-term elections. This time Republicans are counting on being able to replicate their success in 2010. But a roaring economy might well impede their ability to triumph in either the House or Senate.
For his part, Biden is not recapitulating the mistakes that Obama committed as president. In contrast to Obama, Biden is not a celebrity president. He is a consummately political one. He isn’t engaging in the protracted negotiations that Obama indulged in over healthcare. Instead, he made a feint at bipartisanship before rolling to a fast legislative triumph. In addition, Obama made little effort to tout the legislative wins that he did attain.
Not Biden. He is hammering home the significance of his rescue plan this week, including a primetime speech on Thursday that marks the first anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown. Biden will surely present himself as the president who is on the road to success in combating not only the virus, but also its parlous economic effects. The pandemic legislation is likely to further boost Biden’s popularity rating, which stands at 60 percent according to a recent Associated Press poll. Biden will seek to push ahead on a sweeping infrastructure and voter reform bill. He has one more reconciliation bill left that he can use in 2021. Whether he deploys it for infrastructure remains an open question.
The one issue that could trip him up, however, is immigration. The surge at the border is a PR nightmare for Biden and a potential bonanza for the GOP. Conservatives are slamming Biden as an “open borders” president. The perception on the right is that Biden has put ICE on ice. Biden himself is downplaying the issue. He said about the surge, “We’ll be able to handle it.” So far, the only thing that Biden appears to have banished are his two German shepherds, Champ and Major, the latter of whom was involved in a “biting incident.” They’ve been exiled from the White House back to his home in Delaware.
The genteel Biden has himself begun to show some teeth as he pushes forward his legislative agenda. Regularly dismissed as an old coot, Biden has often been underestimated. Having waited decades to become president, he shows every sign of being more ambitious than his detractors assumed. Already he is responsible for the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon B. Johnson.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest.