Fixing bridges, building tunnels and expanding broadband
Successive presidents tried for so many years to pass infrastructure legislation that it became a running joke in Washington. Maybe that’s one reason
polls show that voters don’t know that Biden finally broke that logjam, and did it with support from lawmakers of both political parties. It was the kind of historic investment — following years of deferred needs — that previous presidents had tried and failed to achieve.
The move: In his first year as president, Biden clinched an infrastructure deal that opened the spigot for $1.2 trillion of investment into the nation’s roads, waterlines, broadband networks, airports and much more. Two years later, projects that had been languishing for years — like replacing a 110-year-old Amtrak tunnel that’s become a chokepoint into New York City or an outdated and congested bridge between Kentucky and Ohio — are finally moving forward.
The impact: Those projects will take years to complete. Of the 40,000-plus projects that have gotten underway since the law was signed, a very small handful have had ribbon-cuttings. The new Amtrak tunnel isn’t scheduled to open until 2035. The administration is putting
signs on as many projects as possible declaring they were “funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” while they’re under construction, but that’s not the same as people connecting that money to things that improve their everyday life. Still, the law is having economic impact: The construction industry has added 670,000 jobs since Biden took office.
The upshot: Republicans say massive government spending in the infrastructure law and other big Biden bills are to blame for stoking inflation. But during this year’s political campaign season, both parties stand to benefit from taking credit, and voters may finally start hearing about it — from both sides.
— Tanya Snyder
The U.S. is producing more oil than anytime in history
Biden came into office after having promised to slash oil production on public land. Canceling the Keystone XL pipeline during his first week in office seemed to confirm the image of him as a president who would happily throttle the country’s oil industry while showering the renewable energy industry with government dollars. But things turned out a little differently.
The move: Biden has been happy to use government largess to stimulate the renewables industry — but he’s also done little to check the short-term growth of oil. After the Covid-led economic downturn and Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a supply shock in the crude markets that drove U.S. gasoline prices up in 2022, the White House made
an uneasy, but real, embrace of the oil industry to help bring down gasoline prices.
The impact: U.S. oil production is at record levels and is expected to go even higher next year. U.S. production is humming along at more than 13 million barrels per day and growing. That’s a gusher that’s topped levels that then-President Trump and GOP backers used to boast about. Exports are also on the rise as domestic fuel consumption has slowly come off the highs experienced a decade ago, meaning that every new barrel of oil produced in the United States is more likely to head overseas.
Gasoline is now below $3 a gallon in many parts of the country.
The upshot: Demanding an “all of the above” policy that includes all forms of energy has become cliche among lawmakers. Under Biden, that may have become a reality few politicians will want to publicly discuss. Democrats don’t want to alienate their green backers on the left who’ve accused the administration of abandoning its climate focus, while Republicans are loath to admit that Biden’s oil boom is bigger than Trump’s.
— Ben Lefebvre
Strengthening military ties to Asian allies
Biden came into office with the goal of countering China by rebuilding military alliances with Asian allies. In late 2022,
a top Pentagon official promised to accelerate that effort, vowing that “2023 is likely to stand as the most transformative year in U.S. force posture in the [Pacific] region in a generation.”
The move: The Biden administration inked new defense partnerships with the
Papua New Guinea, and deepened ties with
Australia. The Pentagon also announced it would forward-deploy a Marine littoral regiment, an upgraded unit equipped with anti-ship missiles and advanced intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities, in
Okinawa, Japan. In addition, during his first year as president, Biden announced
a new working group with Britain and Australia to support Canberra’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines and share other advanced technologies, a pact now known as AUKUS.
The impact: All of the moves are aimed at building up the United States’ military partnerships in the Pacific — and countering China. The Pentagon said China is continuing to steadily expand its
nuclear arsenal and could have 1,500 warheads by 2035, in addition to its growing fleet of warships and aircraft.
The upshot: The jury is still out on whether the administration has transformed the country’s posture in Asia, but DOD undeniably made some key moves that are sure to please partners in the region who worry about China’s mounting aggression.
— Lara Seligman
A new agency to investigate cyberattacks
Organizations that fall victim to hacks often keep tight-lipped about what happened due to fear of legal liability or brand damage. But cybersecurity experts have long warned that the country will never break free from an endless cycle of computer breaches unless companies and government agencies become more transparent about how they got infiltrated. The danger was underscored in 2020 when
a sophisticated Russian hack breached nine federal agencies.
The move: In 2021, Biden stood up the Cyber Safety Review Board, a government review panel charged with investigating the most significant computer security breaches that have affected the country. Just as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates transportation incidents, the new DHS-led panel is tasked with identifying the root cause of significant hacks and offering guidance to ensure they never happen again. The Board has 15 members hailing from both the private sector and the U.S. government.
The impact: The CSRB has received strong positive feedback from the cybersecurity industry for its first two investigations: one into a software vulnerability that had the government bracing for digital crisis and a second involving a group of hackers who developed a playbook to slip the defenses at some of the country’s highest profile companies, among them Uber and Microsoft. It’s unclear how much impact the board has really had, however, given that companies are not obligated to follow its guidance. It has also received criticism for appearing to avoid investigations that could make individual companies or the government look bad — a charge the CSRB denies.
The upshot: The Biden administration is hoping Congress will make the CSRB a permanent fixture of the federal government’s cybersecurity landscape. It has sent lawmakers draft legislation to codify the panel into law, enhance its budget and give it greater legal authorities to compel the production of evidence from breach victims. But Congress hasn’t yet acted, leaving the future of the board an open question.
— John Sakellariadis