On Monday, November 16, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris gave remarks on the U.S. economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, following a meeting with union leaders and CEOs representing some of the nation’s largest companies.
WHAT IT MEANS
The President- and Vice President-elect laid out their messaging and vision for COVID-19 recovery and longer-term economic success.
President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris first met with a group of union and industry leaders:
- Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO
- Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU
- Rory Gamble, President of UAW
- Marc Perrone, President of UFCW
- Lee Saunders, President of AFSCME
- Brian Cornell, CEO and Chairman of the Board at Target
- Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors
- Satya Nadella, President and CEO of Microsoft
- Sonia Syngal, CEO of Gap
In remarks following the meeting, President-elect Biden outlined a multi-phased approach to economic recovery:
- Address the COVID-19 pandemic
- Deliver immediate consumer relief
- Support longer-term investments in targeted areas
The President-elect’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not new. On the campaign trail, President-elect Biden repeatedly cited the need to address the COVID-19 pandemic before a full restart of the economy would be possible. The President-elect discussed the need for a national strategy, including:
- Mandatory mask policies
- Widely available testing with rapid results
- Scaled up production of treatments and therapeutics
- Safe, equitable, and free distribution of a vaccine
In questions with reporters following remarks, the President-elect stressed the urgency for greater transition planning with the current Administration, stating bluntly that “more people may die if we don’t coordinate.” He particularly stressed the imperative to ensure effective planning for vaccine distribution.
The President-elect then discussed the need for short-term consumer relief, challenging Congress to pass the HEROES Act. President-elect Biden specifically called for:
- Affordable health care (without specifics)
- Child care, sick leave, and family leave for workers
- Support for small businesses and entrepreneurs
- Resources for employers. The President-elect called for tools, resources, and the “national guidance and health and safety standards to operate safely.” 
- Funding for states and localities. The President-elect acknowledged that state budgets are in trouble, and financial stresses are impacting frontline workers, educators, and first responders.
Finally, the President-elect laid out his longer-term vision for the economy – the “Build Back Better” plan. President-elect Biden called out the need for federal investment in key sectors, stating a plan to invest $300 billion in the most critical, competitive industries. Other specific priority fields:
- Manufacturing – including references to America “owning” the electric vehicle market, and stockpiles
- Clean energy research
- Weatherizing homes
- Modernize infrastructure
- Investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure, citing the need to support remote learning and telemedicine
- Affordable housing units
- Historically Black Colleges and Universities and community colleges
A few key statements to highlight:
- Buy American – The President-elect signaled an interest in so-called “Buy America” efforts, saying:
“We’re going to Buy American. No government contract will be given to companies that don’t make their products here in America…. We can make sure our future is made here in America. And that’s good for business, and its good for American workers.”
- Unions – The President-elect repeatedly referenced the power of unions, unsurprising given the previous meeting. President-elect Biden said directly that “unions are going to have increased power,” and repeatedly stressed an interest in creating good-paying jobs.
- Tax structure – As he has repeatedly discussed on the campaign trail, the President-elect reiterated his commitment to changing the federal tax code to ensure that “the wealthiest among us and corporations pay their fair share.”
- Minimum wage – The President-elect called for a national $15/hour minimum wage, as well as better collective bargaining rights and better benefits – though, the latter two references were not accompanied by specific policy discussions.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
While light on specifics, the President-elect’s vision and policies impact the majority of the economy, with each corner impacted somewhat differently.
- Health care stakeholders may be interested in more detail on his plans to address COVID-19, given the recent case spikes.
- Employers across the board should take note of Biden’s vision for Buy American and the increased power of unions that will deliver “high paying jobs.” President-elect Biden will take a different approach rhetorically from President Trump and understands the critical contributions high-skilled immigrants offer as job creators to the economy. However, the incoming Administration is going to need to thread the needle, enacting policies to ensure the American worker is not being left behind while easing some restrictions on high skilled immigration.
- Stakeholders working with state and local governments should be interested in his designs to provide financial relief.
Look for some additional details to be rolled out before inauguration day. However, we are probably a ways away from the full policy weeds on any of these areas.
 As we have noted before, we do not expect a national mask mandate, as there is no enforceable authority by which to implement one, and hinging certain federal funding for states on a mandate would require an act of Congress (unlikely with a Republican Senate). Look for work with state and local health departments to establish mask policies, limited policies for places where there is federal jurisdiction such as certain transportation and in federal buildings, and “leading by example.”
 Remember, Congress already took major steps to making vaccines free to the consumer by requiring insurance companies (including Medicare and Medicaid) to cover the product with no cost sharing and establishing an uninsured pool.