Ask leaders of Boston’s business associations what they want to see a Biden administration tackle first, and the wish lists vary tremendously. One common theme: Most seem buoyed by a sense of optimism that the federal government can find common ground as it confronts the twin crises recession and pandemic.
“The priority has to be some sort of economic stimulus that is bipartisan and unifying,” said Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Assuming Congress passes another economic recovery bill, Rooney wants to see the completion of a long-awaited infrastructure bill in 2021 to pump hundreds of billions into transportation and utility projects. This work could address pressing needs while providing jobs to unemployed people. He said he realizes this would be likely to increase the federal debt, but “right now, when you’re in a multilevel crisis, it seems to me that the debt option has to be on the table.”
John Regan, chief executive of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said a new economic recovery package that includes reopening the Paycheck Protection Program, a lifeline for thousands of small businesses in the state, needs to be a top priority for the new administration if one is not passed this year. Regan said the Biden administration will probably be more aggressive in trying to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly with new federal regulations.
Indeed, the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris victory represents a crucial shift in health care policy, one with potential to help the COVID-19 fight, said Steve Walsh, head of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association. Walsh said “we are confident that their administration will mount a response that is built around science, the expertise of medical professionals, and a close partnership with hospitals and health care providers.” Hospital groups have tangled with the Trump administration over issues such as immigrants’ health care, the fate of the Affordable Care Act, and funding of Medicaid and Medicare programs. Walsh hopes to see shifts on those fronts, as well.
Segun Idowu, executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, hopes a Biden-Harris administration means that some form of the “Saving Our Streets” legislation gets passed to send grants to struggling small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color. Senator Harris and Representative Ayanna Pressley filed the “SOS” bill in May as a way to ensure disenfranchised communities weren’t left out of federal economic stimulus efforts. It would have allocated nearly $125 billion to microbusinesses suffering amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Passage seemed all but impossible under a Republican-led Senate and President Trump. “Many of our businesses have closed their doors,” Idowu said. “We’re in industries that have been impacted for generations. It’s going to be important to help . . . these businesses survive or help folks transfer to other industries.”
Eva Millona, president of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said Biden’s to-do list should begin with two executive orders: one for deferring deportation for immigrants who are in the United States under the DACA or TPS programs, and the other for increasing the annual cap for global refugees.
The Trump administration sharply reduced the annual number of refugees to 15,000, and Biden has said he would reset the cap at 125,000. It won’t be easy to resolve the legal battle over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs, but Millona said Biden can prevent the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants as their fates are decided by the courts. “You can’t talk about economic recovery without talking about the immigration population,” Millona said.
For organizations that represent environmental interests in the business community, such as Boston-based Ceres, rejoining the Paris Agreement can’t happen soon enough. Ceres CEO Mindy Lubber said reversing the Trump administration’s withdrawal, as Biden has pledged, will go a long way toward tackling carbon dioxide emissions on a global basis, in part by setting a strong example for other countries. Lubber also hopes Biden can restore some of the environmental rules that were unwound under President Trump, such as those pertaining to automobile and power plant emissions.
JD Chesloff, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, worries the pandemic is undermining the early childhood education sector. Providing more federal funds would allow more parents to rejoin the workforce. Chesloff also wants help for cash-strapped state and local governments and some liability protection for businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits, assuming Congress doesn’t tackle these issues in the final weeks of 2020.
To accomplish much of this wide-ranging agenda, Biden will need to broker compromises and build consensus.
“The good thing about Biden is he’s got relationships in both parties, and at all wings of the parties,” said Rooney, of the Greater Boston Chamber. “If it remains polarized . . . then we’re not going to be able to solve these big issues.”
Shirley Leung of the Globe staff contributed to this report.