Guest Opinion | Biden’s first year in office is a mixed performance

Although the president (lowercase) gives lip service to progressive causes, he has lacked progressive action.


Jenna Galligan

Former Vice President and 2020 democratic candidate Joe Biden speaks to attendees outside after his speech at the opening of his campaign office on S. Gilbert St. on Wednesday, August 7, 2019.

Following one of the most contentious elections in recent memory, President Joe Biden has now spent a year in the Oval Office.

Given the number of candidates and perspectives represented in the 2020 Democratic primary, it is worth looking back at Biden’s first year from the perspective of a progressive Democrat whose first and second choices were Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. How has Biden performed as president? Has he lived up to his campaign promises?

In short, it’s a very mixed bag.

One example of this has been this administration’s tepid support for striking workers and labor unions. The president supported Kellogg strikers after the company sought to permanently replace its striking workers, calling for a ban on the practice.

Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, went so far as to join striking John Deere workers on the picket line in Ankeny. When Amazon workers sought to unionize in Alabama, Biden released a video strongly voicing his support.

Unfortunately, Biden has stopped short of outright support for striking workers in many other instances, with his administration preferring to reaffirm “the right” to strike rather than weigh in on the merits of the strikers’ cases. This is disappointing, as it appears to contrast his campaign portrayal of himself as “the most pro-union president.” Shouldn’t the most pro-union president be working tirelessly to get striking workers what they need?

Another abandoned staple of Biden’s campaign was the $15 minimum wage, which was one of the first items cut from the negotiation table of the earlier American Rescue Plan. In the middle of a pandemic — which has led to a worker shortage in Iowa and the U.S. overall — the raising of worker pay would have had an immense impact on both young people in college and working-class members of labor unions.

Biden’s agenda for college students has been similarly frustrating. Biden all but abandoned his goal of eliminating $10,000 worth of student loan debt per person, which would have helped relieve one of the largest burdens facing college graduates entering the workforce.

This proposal wouldn’t require some radical shift in the power of parties in Congress. The Trump Administration canceled student loan debt for certain groups of people via executive order. Why does Biden seem unwilling to simply broaden those same policies?

Congress is not doing Biden’s agenda any favors, either. The negotiations for Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act — now stalled in a Democratic Congress — resulted in the sacrifice of Biden’s plan for tuition-free community college. The failure of this plan combined with Biden’s unwillingness to broadly eliminate student loan debt stunts any effort to lower the astronomically high price of college.

Perhaps some of these items were doomed to fail. It is impossible to ignore the role of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in the scrapping of these proposals. But the White House needs to get creative.

The president has not yet proven to progressives who voted for him that he is truly committed to their causes. But he clearly wants to be, otherwise he wouldn’t be paying lip service to unions, drawing down the drone war, or fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

Hopefully, his second year will demonstrate his desire to enact progressive policy more than his first year. With the midterms approaching, I have my doubts.

  • Caleb Slater, University Democrats President