Democrats are about to hand over the House to Republicans, and the dynamic for President Biden and his party is at a turning point.
Looking back at the last two years, there was plenty of infighting among Democrats, even as they held control of both chambers of Congress. Biden was not able to pass the full scope of his social spending plan, for example; the expanded child tax credit did not get extended, and the president’s student loan relief program is tied up in courts with an uncertain future.
And yet, Democrats still managed to pass major pieces of legislation, several with bipartisan support.
“The problem is that they oversold and underdelivered, even though what they delivered by any normal metric would have been pretty impressive,” NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson said on a recent episode of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Democrats’ accomplishments don’t seem to be registering with the public — at least not yet.
Most Americans disapprove of the job Biden is doing. But voters did give Democrats strong midterms results, driven in part by the Supreme Court’s blow to abortion rights and an aversion to more extreme candidates on the right.
It’s also true that much of the legislation will take time to take hold — investments in infrastructure, for example, are not immediately apparent.
Biden heads into the next two years with a Republican-controlled House vowing to investigate his administration and his family. As Liasson put it: expect more investigation than legislation in the next two years. (Listen to the full conversation about Biden’s agenda and how it’s been received here.)
Whether or not Biden adds to his roster in the next half of his first term as president, he can already claim the following big ticket items:
The American Rescue Plan in response to COVID-19
One of Biden’s first acts as president was to try to get the coronavirus pandemic under control by passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The White House sent Americans in the low-to-medium income range a $1,400 payment to help fund basic necessities like rent and groceries. Biden also extended a $300 a week federal unemployment benefit for some 9.7 million people out of work at the time, temporarily expanded the child tax credit program, allotted $7.25 billion for small business loans and $128 billion in grants for state educational agencies.
Biden teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer and track COVID-19 vaccinations across the country.
The bill passed the Senate 50-49 and the House 220 to 211, both along party lines, before being signed into law by the president on March 11.
While the initiatives were broadly popular with voters, critics warned the rescue plan could actually make the country’s economic outlook worse.
A bipartisan infrastructure bill
Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law in November 2021 that will repair the nation’s roads, bridges and railways, bring high-speed internet to rural communities and more.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes: $284 billion for transportation needs, which includes repairing bridges and roadways, public transit and airports, electric vehicles and low emission public transportation; $65 billion for broadband internet; $73 billion for power infrastructure; and $55 billion for clean drinking water.
The legislation was a major bipartisan achievement, made possible by 32 Republicans — 13 in the House and 19 in the Senate — who crossed the aisle to ensure it passed. Former President Donald Trump had pressed conservatives to vote against the bill, but key GOP leaders Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky supported the legislation.
The first major gun-safety bill in decades
In wake of the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., — which together claimed the lives of 19 children and 12 adults — Biden signed into law the largest gun-safety bill to pass Congress in nearly 30 years. While historically significant, the bill was rather limited compared to what gun control advocates would have wanted.
Just before he signed the bill in June, Biden said that although the measure didn’t achieve everything he had hoped for, the bipartisan piece of legislation would ultimately save lives.
“At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential,” Biden said.
Building semiconductors at home through the CHIPS Act
The CHIPS (creating helpful incentives to produce semiconductors) and Science Act of 2022 passed in August, which allocated roughly $53 billion in federal funding to manufacture semiconductor chips in the U.S. instead of relying on China to produce them.
According to the White House, the bill will “boost American semiconductor research, development, and production, ensuring U.S. leadership in the technology that forms the foundation of everything from automobiles to household appliances to defense systems.”
Cellphones, laptops, gaming consoles, washing machines, automobiles — nearly all modern electronic devices — require semiconductors to function. And though the United States is major semiconductor manufacturer ($5 billion in 2020), it imports more than double what it produces ($12.5 billion in 2020), according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Supply chain issues during the pandemic highlighted that heavy reliance, and Biden’s bill aims to remedy that level of overseas dependence. It passed the Senate and the House through bipartisan efforts.
The Inflation Reduction Act
Not long after securing his seat in the Oval Office, Biden worked to pass the Build Back Better Act, a massive social spending bill to the tune of nearly $2 trillion. It included many promises Biden made on the 2020 campaign trail, such as major health care reform, universal pre-kindergarten and paid family leave, $550 billion dedicated to combatting climate change and more, paid for in part by increased taxes for corporations and the uber rich.
That original piece of legislature stalled, but after months of negotiations, resurfaced under a different name; the Inflation Reduction Act.
It took almost a year for Biden’s ambitious package to pass through Congress, with Vice President Harris’ vote breaking the Senate’s 50-50 party line vote. It cleared the House in a 220-207 vote along party lines, without a single Republican voting in favor.
The package also includes:
- $369 billion for a climate initiative to reduce greenhouse emissions and promote lean energy technologies.
- $300 billion in new revenue through a corporate tax increase.
- $80 billion for the Internal Revenue Service to hire new agents, modernize its technology, audit the wealthy and more.
- A $2,000 annual cap for out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for those insured by Medicare.
Support for Ukraine’s defense against a Russian invasion
The United States recently pledged another wave of support for Ukraine — over $44 billion — in its 2023 federal spending bill. When added to what the White House provided earlier in 2022, it brings America’s total contribution to over $100 billion.
It’s been over 300 days since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Since then, President Biden and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have provided continued financial, military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, which appears to have kept Putin’s army from steamrolling across the country despite its superior military capabilities.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy traveled to Washington just before Christmas to thank Biden and Congress for continued support. “Your money is not charity,” he said. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
“The United States is committed to ensuring that the brave Ukrainian people can continue to defend their country against Russian aggression as long as it takes,” Biden told Zelenskyy. “You will never stand alone.”
There has been weakening support for Ukraine aid from some Republicans as the war creeps closer to the one-year mark, however, and getting more funding through could become increasingly difficult in the new year.