When the House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill last May, it was the most expensive legislation ever approved by a chamber of Congress in U.S. history. It went nowhere in the Senate, and the stimulus that was ultimately enacted in December, at the tail end of the Trump administration, was less than a third as large.
Now, President Biden is proposing a $3 trillion infrastructure bill as his second most urgent priority, less than three weeks after he signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package. The underlying message is clear: In the face of an array of extremely serious challenges, from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout to climate change, Mr. Biden is not interested in going small.
For comparison, consider Barack Obama, who, like Mr. Biden, inherited a devastated economy when he became president. Mr. Obama quickly proposed what was, at the time, a historically large stimulus; the version that ultimately passed totaled $787 billion, less than half the size of the Biden stimulus. Mr. Obama signed the package on Feb. 17, 2009, and headed to Arizona the next day to announce a comparatively tiny $75 billion housing plan.
Or consider Donald J. Trump, who failed to sign a major piece of legislation in his first months in office. Nearly half of the first 28 laws he signed were rollbacks of Obama-era regulations. Within the first hours of his presidency, Mr. Trump moved to fulfill his pledge to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, issuing an executive order to “ease the burdens” of the law, but Congress never repealed the A.C.A. And while he ordered that the U.S.-Mexico border wall be built, he was forced to accept a delay in funding.
Part of Mr. Biden’s motivation is to avoid what many Democrats see as a mistake of the Obama administration: scaling bills down in pursuit of Republican support, only to pass a final product that, in their view, did not meet the moment.
Another factor in Mr. Biden’s approach is how enormously the political dynamics within the Democratic Party have changed in the past 12 years, with progressives wielding significantly more influence.
And presidential priorities can change over time. Mr. Biden will spend part of Tuesday afternoon signing the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program from March 31 to May 31 into law. The program was first established in the largest spending bill to date in U.S. history, the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in Mr. Trump’s last year in office.