Biden's dream agenda faces headwinds

Economic, political realities will constrain major programs

On Nov. 3, voters repudiated extremism. While tossing out Trump-brand politics, the electorate also failed to produce the Democrat’s hoped-for blue wave.

The message was clear in the Democratic party’s choice of Joe Biden, the least finger-pointing and most centric of the available candidates. Although he leaned left to attract the party’s progressive base, he’ll likely come back on center as he enters office on Jan. 20, 2021.

While visions of sugar-plum windmills, zippy bullet trains and electric everything dance in the dreams of Green New Dealers, the gift under the inauguration tree is sure to disappoint.

Biden must first deal with a raging pandemic, an economy still mired in recession, a demoralized executive branch stripped of many long-term professionals, and tattered foreign relations that need tender loving care and repair.


The new president inherits an unheard-of, unprecedented budget deficit of $3.1 trillion and a record national debt exceeding $27 trillion, limiting his ability to advance new big-budget programs.

The blue washout delivered a smaller Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and no more than a 50-50 split in the Senate—and that only if both Georgia runoff elections go to Democrats. Biden’s ability to push through major progressive legislation will be limited. Democrats in Congress from swing states or districts will be mindful of their next election chances and may not fall in line with the party on more controversial programs.

With Joe Biden’s power constrained, his rule will largely be limited to executive orders. Presidential orders can have major impacts, as both Obama and Trump discovered, but they can’t create new legislation or spending. Only Congress can do that.

In coming weeks, we’ll look in detail at President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for infrastructure, transportation and the economy, and the likely chances for success in those areas. Subscribe now to be sure you don’t miss these reports. It’s free!

Stimulus bill still at stalemate

House Democrats and Senate Republicans remain more than a trillion dollars apart on a second major pandemic relief bill, diminishing hopes for any new stimulus before the end of the year. Democrats are sticking to the $2.2 trillion version of the HEROES Act, narrowly passed by the House on Oct. 1, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is holding the line at $500 million.

The Hill reports that McConnell has taken over negotiations from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the petulant outgoing president is now focused only on himself.

That leaves revenue-starved transit agencies, Amtrak, airlines, airports and bus companies to implement further layoffs and service cuts.

Order Now: Trains Magazine “Big Projects” special issue

In my role as correspondent for Trains Magazine and News Wire, I wrote three feature reports for this special issue, now available for order. Here’s what you’ll get, along with stories from other Trains contributors:

“The Need to Build” tells the story of America’s impressive history of transportation building, the state of our infrastructure today, and why it takes so long and costs so much to build new projects.

“On Borrowed Time” digs into the history, politics, economics and engineering of the century-old railroad tunnels under the Hudson River, and Amtrak’s uphill challenge to rebuild them.

“The Overshadowed Tunnel” talks about another Amtrak tunnel, even older, that needs replacement to eliminate a bottleneck under the city of Baltimore.