It is hard to overstate the boldness of President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office on April 30th. Behind this is the president’s desire to recharge America and at the same time improve the US’s chances in its escalating competition with China.
Biden’s audacity is best measured by the numbers: the $ 4 trillion he spent to fund an American pandemic surge, a surge in jobs and growth in the United States, and a mountain of national infrastructure investments (generous definition of “infrastructure.” ) wants to generate.
Never in my memory has a US president linked domestic investment so closely to US global standing – and now he is acting on that belief.
Biden made sure no one missed the connection with China when he unveiled his infrastructure spending proposal this week, which he described as “the largest single investment in American jobs since World War II.”
Biden asked, “Do you think China is waiting to invest in this digital infrastructure or in research and development? I promise you they won’t wait. But they are counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited and too divided is To keep up … We have to show the world. Much more important is that we show ourselves that democracy works. That we can come together on the big things. It’s the United States of America, for God’s sake! “
Biden administration officials who are veterans of the Obama years say they act in several lessons: don’t let cable television’s criticism of your plans distract you, don’t let economists throw you off, don’t expect bipartisan Support. and don’t set your sites too low.
“Go big or go home,” a former Obama official told me, summarizing the attitude that drove Biden’s first 100 days. This was made easier because the Democrats continued to control the House, de facto holding the Senate with a 50:50 split – and if necessary with a groundbreaking vote by the Vice President.
President Biden showed for the first time how ready he was to go through the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout plan passed in early March, one of the largest stimulus packages Americans had ever seen. It was far more than Republicans or many economists deemed necessary, but Biden had the votes.
Then this week he released plans for $ 2.3 trillion in infrastructure spending. Define this term to include everything from bridges and broadband networks to spending on the elderly and education for the young. As with the first bill, expect this to be largely party-political.
The mistake many of Biden’s critics make is focusing on the staggering numbers – rather than the staggering politics.
Think of all of those trillions less than a shipload of money than Biden’s down payment to secure America’s place in the world, place in history, and re-election of his party. In the short term, that means enough Americans will see results to ensure the 2022 mid-term election.
In that sense, what appears to fiscal conservatives to be a ruthless economy seems like prudent policy for the Biden team.
In some ways, President Biden uses his luck. Although Biden has suffered a great deal of misfortune in his personal and political life, the stars have been targeted since his election.
Covid’s rebound this year has been inevitable, but his government’s disciplined management of vaccine distribution has accelerated the process and his political standing. Biden last week moved the deadline to April 19 for all adults eligible for the COVID vaccine.
An economic recovery this year was also inevitable, but the Biden government’s stimulus measures should lead to growth of 6.4% this year, the highest since 1984, and then 3.5% in 2022, according to IMF projections.
It remains to be seen how much economic and political momentum $ 4 trillion can buy, with more to come. However, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon believes vaccines and deficit spending could spark a U.S. economic boom that could last through 2023, beyond the mid-term election where the Biden team knows victory is critical to their bigger goals .
It’s also hard to know what impact this will have on China, but so far competition between Beijing and Washington has intensified in the early weeks of the Biden administration.
International visitors to China in recent years have noted a growing confidence among Chinese leaders in the inevitability of America’s decline and rise.
Many Chinese actions at home and abroad – the bullying of international partners, the expansion of the islands in the South China Sea, the reversal of Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms, and the increasing threat to Taiwan – reflect confidence that they can act with relative impunity at a modest cost.
China is also betting that many of America’s most valuable allies and partners – Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the European Union as a whole – have China as their number one trading partner and are reluctant to join a common cause against Beijing.
The bitter exchange at the first face-to-face meeting of Chinese and American heads of state and government in Alaska underscored how difficult it will be to have an increasingly militant relationship.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for President Biden to combine his domestic and international goals is that he is more likely to find political consensus on the need to confront China than he will find on either of his spending plans alone.
Before Kurt Campbell joined the Biden government as Indo-Pacific coordinator, he wrote with Rush Doshi, who is now China director on the National Security Council, that the Chinese challenge could be a boon to induce the US to make the necessary investments in any case prudent.
“The path away from decline … could lead through a rare area prone to bipartisan consensus,” they wrote, “the need for the United States to rise to the China challenge.”
Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and President and CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of America’s most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked for the Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as foreign correspondent, assistant editor-in-chief and senior editor for the European edition of the newspaper. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place in the World” – was a New York Times bestseller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his view every Saturday of the top stories and trends of the past week.
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