Opinion

The First 100 Days of Biden-Harris: A Battle for Second Place on the Agenda

Call up any Washington insider, and they’ll talk your ear off about the Democratic ticket, how the virtual convention went, or the inside scoop on what to expect from debates. These questions make for great Zoom happy hour chit-chat but do absolutely nothing to further your policy agenda – or protect your bottom line. The question every cause, coalition and corporation should really be asking itself is what the first 100 days of a potential Biden-Harris administration look like – and what can they do about it.

We all know pandemic recovery – both in health and in the economy – will be first on the list. Now is the time to figure out who and what will be second, and how to position yourself to help determine it.

We’ve been here before. When President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took office in 2009, they faced an economic collapse that required immediate action. Sound familiar? Should he prevail in November, much of the oxygen in the first days of a potential Biden administration will be taken up by addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. Once the ink was dry on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there were nearly a decade’s worth of priorities that Obama and the Democratic Congress were hungry to tackle. Biden will face the same urgency to act on a range of issues if he wins the White House this fall. 

Remember, this isn’t just about four years of the Trump administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies in the Senate have created a bottleneck for Democratic priorities for a full decade.

For those looking for proactive action – strengthening our health care system, tackling climate change, addressing gun violence issues, protecting workers or further reforming the financial industry – the time for action is now. Have you defined the scope of what you’re asking for and how to pay for it? Built a diverse coalition of supporters? Identified what policymakers and influencers you need to get something done? Developed relationships with key reporters who will be critical to getting attention to the issue? 

The time for specifics is now if the goal is to move quickly. 

In 2009, Obama tackled health care right out of the gate not because he picked it out of a hat – it took years of behind-the-scenes work by him, his team and his allies on Capitol Hill. And because he expended so much of his political capital on the Affordable Care Act, equal pay and Wall Street reform –  Democrats were not able to pass big climate change legislation in Congress during the critical window ahead of the first midterm elections in 2010, where they lost a historic number of seats in the House and control of the gavels.

Of course, there are a wide range of industries that want to stay off the list of major action in the first 100 days. Trust us, this doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time, effort, a strategy and tactics to stay off of radars in D.C. and in statehouses across the country. Have you started reframing your issue internally and externally with a Democratic agenda in mind? Have you started reaching out to influencers who may support you – or at least would be open to not immediately taking action against you? 

Some think this is planning is unnecessary – they know what it means to be a Biden Democrat. It’s time to rethink that presumption. Much like the evolution of Democrats broadly, while the former vice president remains a mainstream Democrat, he continues to lean leftward. Between the work of the joint Biden-Sanders policy committees and his embrace of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposals on student-loan forgiveness, there is no doubt that Biden is prepared to be the standard-bearer of today’s Democratic Party. It’s time for brands to think about how that is going to impact their bottom line. 

Taking the time now to put in place a strong public affairs strategy, with a clear-eyed view of what a Democratic agenda will look like, will serve you far into the future – whether you want to be on the Biden-Harris 100-day agenda or off of it.

 

Scott Mulhauser has held leadership positions in Washington, D.C., for over two decades including as senior adviser and counsel of the Senate Finance Committee during the passage of the ACA and as deputy chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden; he is now a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive. Bridgett Frey spent a decade on Capitol Hill, most recently serving as communications director for U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.); she is now a director at Bully Pulpit Interactive. 

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Correction: A previous version of this op-ed misstated the title of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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