With most vote counts across the country now officially certified, it’s evident that Donald Trump will suffer the same political fate as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush: he’ll be a one-term president. As someone whose first foray into political life was using my childhood allowance to buy a book of Ronald Reagan’s speeches, and who has subsequently built a professional career on the fiscally conservative right, I assume this result will spell the end of my priorities in government. Indeed, I expect to spend the coming years opposing and disagreeing with much of what the new administration does.

However, Joe Biden has also signaled that he is more willing to govern by consensus than partisans on either side might prefer. If President Biden hopes to establish his own legacy and turn emergency votes into lasting support, he’d be wise to pursue an agenda that includes popular ideas for reform.

Here are a few suggestions.

Prioritize targeted COVID-19 relief and move beyond “virus theater”

It’s clear that more COVID relief will be at the top of Biden’s agenda. However, the incoming president should resist calls to pass record-high spending bills with goodie bags of unrelated priorities. Instead he should take the advice of nearly 40 groups from across the political spectrum and keep relief targeted to what is needed: refrain from bailing out the states, stop wasteful federal payments to predominantly large agribusinesses, and reinstate free trade as the best way to help businesses bounce back from the pandemic.

Donald Trump was one of the biggest-spending presidents in history—and that’s before you include pandemic-related expenditures. Eventually these bills will come due. Biden would be wise to remember, as he stated throughout the campaign, that defeating the pandemic is the first step towards reviving the economy. He should push to fund PPE and vaccine research, not slush funds and special interest handouts. Now is not the time to pick winners and losers in the private sector but to let competition and the marketplace of ideas continue to play an important role.

Finally, we should hope his administration will meaningfully follow science. Although coming off of a president who touted light injections and accused doctors of lying for profit might set the bar low, there are obvious pitfalls. The COVID-19 advisory committee is a good first step, but more should be done. If Biden opts to focus on “virus theater” like outdoor mask requirements and deep-cleaning surfaces, he cannot claim to be “following science” just because his predecessor did not pretend to. Instead he should take steps to encourage businesses to improve ventilation and remove barriers to dining outdoors.

Immediately increase access to affordable health care

There are far more popular ideas for improving health care than the topics that drive controversial national debates. Beyond partisan attacks and made-for-TV headlines, there are still plenty of areas where there is broad, bipartisan agreement.

A Biden administration will remember the fight over Obamacare. It will know that more than anything, Americans want easy access to more affordable health care—and not every option is as controversial as Obama’s signature legislation. One action that could quickly alleviate drug costs while enabling longer-term solutions would be expanding access to generic drugs and biologics. Shockingly, despite pressure from advocates and medical experts, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Health and Human Services Department refused to take action under the Trump administration. And this is only one step: recall that telehealth exploded in popularity after the pandemic hit, with governors of both parties embracing the change.

It’s time to help make those new rules permanent and further increase access to health care options.

Restrain the runaway executive branch and strengthen Congress

Reportedly, President-elect Biden is already planning to undo executive actions from the previous administration. For some, the idea of going further and enacting a progressive wish list might be tantalizing. But as Trump is now learning, actions taken alone are doomed to be temporary.

What’s more, weakening the constitutional check of Congress carries lasting consequences beyond just temporary policies. It is inevitable that each party will eventually lose control of Congress and the White House. If Biden cares about preserving norms, he should take action to strengthen, not weaken, Congress. And he has plenty of places he can start, not the least of which is modernizing the way it does business—beginning with the Select Committee on Congressional Modernization’s 96 bipartisan recommendations. The Committee and its members, under the guidance of Representatives Derek Kilmer and Tom Graves, spent the 116th Congress surfacing reforms from inside and outside Congress to help the legislative branch once again become the first branch. A Biden administration could find quick allies by seeking counsel from these members.

But there’s more to do on this front. The Power of the Purse Act, introduced by House and Senate Democrats just a few months ago, provides key ways for Congress to assert its role over the nation’s purse strings (and maybe avoid temporary, politically driven pet projects like border walls and payments to farmers). Some of these ideas even overlap with the bipartisan Budget Process Reform bill advanced out of committee by outgoing Chairman Mike Enzi and Ranking Member Sheldon Whitehouse.

Donald Trump certainly was not the first president to expand his unitary power, and he will not be the last. Biden should call on his better angels and instead allow the separation of powers to work as intended.

Improve independent oversight and accountability

It’s not just Congress that has oversight power in America’s federal government. The prior administration ran roughshod over established norms with blatant Hatch Act violations, ignoring the Impoundment Control Act and apportionment authority, and redirecting defense spending to pay for the wall. Trump, unsurprisingly, despised and targeted inspectors general. If Biden wants to chart a new course, he should move instead to increase the IGs’ influence and strengthen the power of internal watchdogs more generally.

There is momentum on this front, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris having introduced legislation to increase transparency for pandemic-related small business loans, and members from both parties introducing legislation just two weeks ago to heighten transparency within the federal government more broadly. But now is not the time to double down on actions like using the Federal Vacancies Reform Act as a tool for filling presidential appointments—at least not for someone who is serious about a return to norms.

Manage Pentagon spending and pursue a humble foreign policy

Amid historic debt, Biden will sooner or later have to find a way to restrain government spending just as Obama did in his first term. Reassessing America’s footprint in the world is a good place to start. Americans are broadly tired of war and boondoggles. Yet by and large—at least until recently—Trump did little to address this. Here, incoming President Biden has an opportunity to please progressives, conservatives, and disaffected libertarians who hoped President Trump would follow through.

What’s more, Biden can go further than even Trump’s rhetoric suggested, by taking a serious look at the F-35 and other Pentagon boondoggles. There was record defense spending under Donald Trump with little to show for it. Doing things differently would satisfy Biden’s progressive base while throwing a bone to defeated Trump fans. Most of all, it would give a much-needed win to the men and women in uniform who have been toiling away at these wars for nearly two decades.

One of the best moves of the Trump administration was to create a position within the Pentagon specifically dedicated to rooting out waste and improving efficiency. The Chief Management Office of the Department of Defense, first set in motion during the Obama years, was finally created by Republicans in 2018. However, many of those same Republicans have now turned their backs on the role, inserting a provision in the latest National Defense Authorization Act that would terminate the position. This is a mistake. Biden should express his support for the office, which would garner him approval from progressives and libertarians alike.

Low-hanging fruit are everywhere if one takes the time to look. Biden touts his upcoming presidency as a new, optimistic time in our politics, and there’s no better way to show he means it than by scoring a few quick, bipartisan wins. There’s never been a president better positioned—and with little choice otherwise—to achieve them.

Image credit: lev radin

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