- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2021

President Biden’s next 100 days will be dominated by major budget and economic challenges while the administration continues to grapple with controlling COVID-19, former White House chiefs of staff and business leaders said Tuesday in a forum hosted by The Washington Times.

Mr. Biden faces rancorous end-of-summer deadlines on government funding and raising the nation’s borrowing limit, while trying to reach out more effectively to Republicans, the participants said in the virtual event titled “The Chiefs Forum: The Next 100 Days,” co-hosted by Collaborate Up.

Andrew H. Card Jr., former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, said he foresees “uninvited consequences” for the economy resulting in part from massive government spending to aid the recovery from the pandemic.

“One of them may be that people aren’t going back to work the way they thought they would,” Mr. Card said, referring to a slowdown of hiring in April. “I think you’re going to have to pay attention to the unemployment rate and the job opportunities that can’t be filled. I think it’s going to have an impact on our economy.”

Some business leaders and Republicans are blaming expanded unemployment benefits for discouraging people from going back to work.

Mr. Card also cited pent-up consumer demand that is “challenging supply chains” as another hurdle for the administration to address in the short term.

Mack McLarty, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said the coronavirus “will keep dominating the administration” in its second 100 days. He also said Mr. Biden needs to “achieve some measure of bipartisanship” with congressional Republicans on a proposed infrastructure package, and in general on national unity.

“It seems to me he’s making a serious effort to do that,” Mr. McLarty said.

Mick Mulvaney, former chief of staff to President Donald Trump, said the president will confront difficult negotiations with Congress as the nation’s debt ceiling is breached in midsummer, as well as the need for a deal to keep the government running beyond the end of the fiscal year in September. Several former officials noted that Mr. Biden is entering this phase without a permanent White House budget director.

“It’s tough to do a spending bill and tough to do a debt ceiling even when folks are getting along,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “It’s going to be a very challenging next 100 days.”

Josh Bolten, who also served as chief of staff to Mr. Bush, said Washington has been dodging difficult decisions on controlling spending for years.

“Our budget deficit and the piling of trillions of debt — that is going on as we speak — is not at all a problem until it is,” Mr. Bolten said. “When it is a problem, it will be a massive problem for the United States.”

In addition to a $1.9 trillion relief package approved in February, Mr. Biden is proposing more than $4 trillion in additional economic recovery aid. He hopes to get the spending approved by Congress by the end of the summer.

Several participants said the pandemic remains Mr. Biden’s most pressing challenge.

“I would say three things: COVID, COVID and COVID,” said Ann Mei Chang, who served as chief innovation officer on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. “We can’t take our eye off the ball, because COVID is still an issue around the world. America’s health and prosperity is inextricably linked to the rest of the world. We need to turn our attention more fully to the global response.”

Jacek Olczak, CEO of event sponsor Philip Morris International, said the administration will face increasing calls to help with the global pandemic.

“It’s very important for all of us that nobody’s left behind,” Mr. Olczak said. “This will backfire on all of us later on. I believe it [a fully recovery] is going to happen, but we have to be very careful.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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