Every day, President Joe Biden works from the Oval Office, looking across from his desk at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt portrait he wanted to hang over his fireplace.
Before taking over the West Wing, a person familiar with the preparation said, his aides were passed through biographies and historic stories of the 32nd President.
And, shortly after taking up office, Biden consulted a panel of President Historians in the East Room, showing what a participant described as a deep insight not just of the new deal’s architect but of another Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson, the expansive outlook of which Biden hoped to emulate government.
“It was interesting to hear these historians talk about what other presidents have gone through, and the moments, and who were the people who stepped up to the ball, and who’s the people that didn’t,” Biden said during a CNN town hall last month.
Biden is acutely aware that the time has come for him to step up as he heads to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to unveil the next chapter of his massive attempt to change the nation through long-sought progressive goals. He’s looking to the bold deeds championed by Democrats decades ago to guide him in the early days of his administration, convinced that small measures won’t suffice.
According to a source familiar with the situation, the proposal he would unveil in Pittsburgh on Wednesday involves $2.25 trillion in direct investment and an additional $400 billion in renewable energy tax credits. $650 billion for physical infrastructure, $300 billion for housing infrastructure, $300 billion for manufacturing, $300 billion for the power grid, and $400 billion for home caretakers and elderly and disabled care will be included in the $2.25 trillion.
Part two of the budget, which is expected to provide support for child care, early education, and health care, will be unveiled in April and is still in the works, though sources say it will cost about the same.
Biden hopes to model the more transformational reform proposed by his acronym’d 20th-century predecessors, FDR and LBJ, rather than mimicking the last Democratic administration, in which he served as vice president.
Officials say he thinks his party has embraced progressive causes more thoroughly since he left office, and that the simultaneous health and economic problems brought on by Covid-19 have heightened the importance of passing major legislation. And he hasn’t been shy about pointing out places where he thinks President Barack Obama has fallen short and where he plans to improve.
“He’s clearly conscious of being in a big, historic moment,” said a senior administration official involved in the President’s deliberations over his legislative agenda. “These few months are his best chance to make his mark and he wants it to be one that people will remember for a long time.”
Throughout it all, he’s learned from history about how his forefathers dealt with similar situations and how they dealt with them.
“It’s a matter of timing. As you’ve all observed, successful presidents better than me, have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing,” he said during a news conference last week. “Order, deciding priorities, what needs to be done.”
For Biden, that means a comprehensive infrastructure plan that goes beyond simply fixing highways, improving airports, and preventing bridges from collapsing, though he wants to do all of those things as well.
Biden, on the other hand, sees the package as an opportunity to advance the fight against climate change, improve the federal safety net, and make the US more competitive in the face of China.
More than anything, he wants to show that giving government a bigger position isn’t a relic of the past, but one that works today.
“I think the President views this as an opportunity to boost American competitiveness,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday of the President’s infrastructure rollout. “Safe to say we’re going to be looking at millions of jobs, and maybe, most importantly of all, a chance to restore America’s leadership role, at a time where, right now, we run a very real risk of being left behind because of the cost of disinvestment in our infrastructure.”
Few would have expected Biden would take this stance when he first announced his presidential campaign. After all, he is the same man who, after a 36-year Senate career and eight years as Vice President, made a habit of referring to himself as a “transitional figure” within the party when supporting the notion of long-forgotten bipartisanship.
However, the same campaign produced some of the most progressive economic policy ideas in a decade, and his policy rollouts essentially echo those far-reaching goals, according to officials. They also make clear Biden has no intention of backing off of them.