O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
The Biden administration is off to a good start. Now is not the time to lose focus. House Democrats are right that executive actions are the best way forward, but with just three years until the next presidential election, it is important to be thoughtful about what actions are taken.
In a year-and-a-half, President Biden has delivered for the American people. His American Rescue plan has helped communities fight the pandemic. His infrastructure bill has provided billions to rebuild roads and bridges. His steady hand on foreign policy has helped rebuild alliances and restore the world’s faith in the United States.
While the administration is off to a good start, even the president’s most ardent supporters would admit there have been setbacks, like Congress’s failure to pass the Build Back Better agenda and voting rights legislation.
With voting rights and other efforts stalled in Congress, many party activists have urged the president to take a different path. House Democrats and others have suggested that the president pivot from pursuing legislation to pushing policies through executive orders and administrative rules.
Count me among those who believe the President should focus on executive action. For all that has been accomplished by the Biden administration so far, there is still significant work to do. If Congress is not going to help, the president and his cabinet should go it alone.
Judging by recent actions, the administration appears to agree. There are signs across the federal landscape that the executive branch is ready to flex its muscle.
In March, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed strong new emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks that will reduce the pollutants emitted from certain vehicles. Once adopted, the new rules are expected to prevent 2,100 premature deaths and 18,000 cases of childhood asthma.
The EPA proposal is a good example of how much can be accomplished through rules and regulation. Fortunately, there is more on the way.
At Health and Human Services, they are working on new rules to protect seniors in nursing homes. At the Department of Agriculture, there are regulations to promote fairness and competition in food production. Meanwhile, at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, new rules to rein ghost guns are under consideration.
From climate to health care to jobs and immigration, there is no reason a gridlocked Congress has to stop the administration from building on its progress.
Of course, not every new regulation is a good use of the administration’s time. As outside voices urge the president to be more aggressive, the White House should be cautious of getting distracted by unnecessary fights. A president is only guaranteed four years in office, and it is critical that every action count.
In recent weeks, a group of advocates has emerged to push the Department of Labor (DOL) to reexamine its fiduciary regulations for the fourth time in 10 years. Even though the rules were just updated in 2020, advocates are pressing for the president to give them another look.
These advocates are setting the White House up for a fight that does not need to be fought. Fiduciary rules are a form of investor protections. Investor protections are at an all-time high, thanks to recent work by Democrats and Republicans at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), DOL and in states.
Is the current mix of rules perfect? Notably, consumer advocates and the financial industry would both say “no,” which is probably a good sign that a strong compromise is in place.
Experts believe further action by DOL could upset the delicate balance that has been struck by various regulators and result in only the richest Americans having access to face-to-face financial advice. At a time of growing income inequality, the Biden administration needs to be working to close the savings gap, not make it worse. Rather than ripping up regulations that just went into place, DOL should focus its time and attention on problems that still need to be solved. Overtime and wage protection are two areas where workers could really use help.
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