January 18, 2021
Biden’s ‘Reverse Honeymoon’
by Paul Carroll
Although a new president traditionally has a honeymoon of 100 days or so, what Biden faces feels more like divorce proceedings.
Although I’d like to think that the big news in the world this week is that my sister Anne turns 60 years old today, I have a feeling that there is considerably more focus on what happens tomorrow at 12:01pm EST, when Donald Trump leaves office and Joe Biden becomes president of the U.S.
The tradition is that the new president has a honeymoon of 100 days or so, when his people settle into their roles in the new administration and he starts to implement his agenda. But Biden’s plans to start out with a series of decisive actions suggest more of a divorce from the tone and policies of the Trump administration, and the dysfunction in Washington nearly ensures that Biden faces the obverse of the usual honeymoon.
Although I think the longer term is still clear — we will get the virus under control some time in 2021 and see a strong economic recovery, barring some craziness at the inauguration or in coming days — I suspect we will all be left guessing about where the economy and the country stand for at least that first stretch of three months-plus.
The biggest variable will, of course, be the pandemic. It’s clear that the Trump approach of deferring to governors hasn’t worked, and that the Biden approach will have the federal government aggressively centralize the response — but not that the Biden approach will work.
Even if the approach does work, how quickly can invoking the Defense Production Act increase the supply of raw materials for the vaccines? How fast will it be possible to set up national vaccination centers? How rapidly can we get back to normal, given that we’re starting from such a high baseline, with hundreds of thousands of new cases a day in the U.S.?
It won’t help that the Trump administration delayed working with the new team on some aspects of the pandemic response and declined to coordinate on others.
Once the pandemic subsides, life can return to normal, but the speed of economic recovery depends on how much damage has been done by then. Legislation should pass Congress soon that will provide another round of stimulus and protect, in particular, small businesses, which are particularly vulnerable, and employees — but “should” doesn’t mean “will.”
Beyond the normal ideological conflicts, tensions are running incredibly high because of the coming impeachment trial for Trump and because many Republican leaders still find it useful to stoke grievance by refusing to acknowledge that Biden won a free and fair election (according to all the election authorities and all the courts that reviewed the results). Assessing who, specifically, is to blame for the assault on the Capitol two weeks ago will also keep tempers hot — imagine if the Democrats follow through on threats to try to expel Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz from the Senate.
So, we’ll surely get some form of new stimulus, but what it will look like and how soon it will arrive are highly uncertain, at least to me.
Even if the course were clear on the pandemic and on stimulus, Biden would be getting off to a slow start because the Senate won’t confirm his Cabinet appointees until much later than normal for a new administration. That tardiness partly reflects tactical decisions by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but also the fact that the composition of the Senate wasn’t resolved until the runoff elections in Georgia two weeks ago. Now that the Democrats are about to take control, via the tie-breaking vote that Vice President Kamala Harris will be able to cast in a chamber split 50-50, the ground rules are being set for running the Senate, and confirmation hearings will begin — but, in a normal transition, the process would already have been well under way, especially for key positions in the Cabinet.
The way I see it, Biden will struggle through his first 100 days and come out of that stretch… somewhere. He’ll either then have things sort of under control and enjoy a belated honeymoon, or we’ll all have to batten down the hatches for even longer, while we wait for the pandemic to subside and the economy to revive.
I wish I could be more optimistic about the economy and our political prospects, but, hey, a sister who was oh-so-close to dying of cancer 19 years ago hasn’t had so much as a single cancer cell show up in her tests since getting a bone marrow transplant from my younger brother and turns 60 today!
Happy birthday, Anne!
Stay safe, everyone.
P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:
AI will mean faster, better customer service that is cheaper for the carrier: Automation is a win-win with unstoppable momentum.
The change we have seen is acceleration, not true change. We, like many industries, are doing the same things in a digital way.
Here are three tangible ways that low-code programming lets carriers accelerate change and provide new benefits to customers.
Studies of how the public perceives the pandemic’s risks can help insurers understand consumer mindsets and needs.
Although litigation against a firm is stayed in bankruptcy, suits against individuals are typically not. D&O insurance is the last line of defense.
Have events of 2020 permanently altered the trajectory of the insurtech movement and thrown predictions out the window?