Courtesy of Sarah Stolar

One day before President Joe Biden’s first press conference, the Ford School of Public Policy and the University of Michigan Club of Washington, D.C. co-hosted a discussion on the new administration Wednesday night. 

The event, “Biden-Harris Administration: An Early Look,” was held as part of the “Policy Talks @ The Ford School” series and discussed pressing issues and policy decisions facing President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Panelists talked about stimulus checks and the economy during the pandemic, climate change, human rights, relations with China and Africa as well as immigration. 

Michael Barr, dean of the Ford School and moderator of the event, told The Michigan Daily in an interview before the event he saw this event as a way to communicate the details of the Biden administration’s policy to the wider U-M community.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to take stock of how the Biden administration is doing thus far. There’s a lot going on,” Barr said. “There’s, I think, some really terrific and interesting issues to explore and I think our community, both students and faculty, staff, and alumni would all benefit from a chance to hear from University of Michigan experts on those issues.”

Barr worked with the Biden-Harris transition as a member of the U.S. Department of Treasury review team. He has been rumored to be a frontrunner for comptroller of the currency in the Biden administration but a nominee has not yet been named.

Dr. Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy and economics at the Ford School and a panelist of the event, also served on the U.S. Department of Treasury review team during the Biden-Harris transition. Stevenson told The Daily in an interview before the event that she believes this event is beneficial in the diversity of expertise of the panelists.

“You pull the four of us together, and we have very different backgrounds, very different perspectives on the Biden administration, but I think that that will give a really good lens in terms of thinking about what the priorities are of this administration,” Stevenson said. “I think we’re going to have a more robust sense of what should be the priorities in this administration, what are we likely to see, why do they matter and what are some of the roadblocks that the administration is likely to run into.”

The event began with discussion on the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and the possibility of inflation. Stevenson explained how current economic conditions brought on by the pandemic will not be permanent as individuals and businesses respond to market influences. 

“We are probably going to see inflation rise in the short run,” Stevenson said. “We have this increase in demand, and it’s possible that the demand moves faster than supply, and if demand moves faster than supply, that’s going to push prices up. But I am confident that supply is going to be responding to those higher prices very quickly. And as supply increases, that’s going to push the prices back down.”

When asked about increased national debt as a result of the stimulus bill, Stevenson noted the debt could be countered by promoting economic growth. 

“If we borrow, we grow the economy and interest rates are low, it’s really easy to manage that debt,” Stevenson said. “If we don’t grow, interest rates are high, it becomes harder to manage the debt. Right now I think our eyes need to be on the prize of getting GDP growth going again, and using the full potential of the American economy.”

Panelist Dr. Barry Rabe, professor of public and environmental policy at the Ford School and a professor of political science and environment, responded to questions about the effectiveness of  current climate change policy and investment into “green” infrastructure. He described how there have been slight efforts towards improving environmental legislation, but there is still much to be done for these actions to result in true change.

“There’s the domestic politics, but then there’s the international game,” Rabe said. “Rejoining Paris (Climate Accord) is a step, but it’s partially symbolic, and for the U.S. to have any chance of being credible going forward in the next years and decades on climate, they have to back that reintroduction to Paris with some very real, tangible achievements, namely investments and reductions.”

Ambassador Susan D. Page, professor of practice of international diplomacy, discussed the Biden-Harris administration from the perspective of human rights and foreign policy.

“They are making a lot of positive moves with these executive actions,” Page said. “On the human rights side they have made the steps to become again a member of the Human Rights Council, which is excellent. So, they’re saying the right things and the approach, which is focusing very much on a return to normal, and a focus on diplomacy multilateralism and working again with our allies. I think all of that is really very positive.”      

Throughout the event, Page explained that despite this “positive” action, such as human rights abuse sanctions on China, there are still issues with consistently acting on human rights abuses. 

Panelists also contributed to a discussion on U.S. relations with China and Africa in terms of economic partnership, the promotion of democracy and human rights, the effects of climate change and possible environmental policy.

As the panelists were invited to give their closing remarks, Rabe discussed the recent issues associated with integrating environmental policy in the U.S. into the broader policy agenda and the opportunity this provides for the Biden administration.

“This is truly a moment to begin to press that reset button and think anew about what the U.S. might be able to accomplish in (environmental arenas) through public policy that cuts across the board, and combines all of the areas that are engaged,” Rabe said. “And it’s been a remarkable first journey in these first weeks of the Biden administration.” 

Page concluded with a similar optimistic outlook, stating that she is “hopeful” that this administration will help guide the country into better conditions.

“He’s giving us some hope, both in terms of how they’re responding to the pandemic, but also rising to the many challenges that face them,” Page said. “So I’m hopeful that things will get better, not just with the pandemic, but also the administration at all levels, including at state level and local level, how the economy can get better, how people can get better and what the future will look like.” 

LSA sophomore Julia Schettenhelm, communications director for The University’s chapter of College Democrats, told The Daily of the organization’s own views on the Biden-Harris administration thus far in terms of its work in aiding the American populace.

“We at College Democrats at U-M are pleased with the progress and efficiency of the Biden-Harris Administration so far, especially concerning the vaccine rollout and stimulus package,” Schettenhelm said. “We also want to emphasize the need to hold the administration accountable on immigration and anti-racism work.”

The University’s chapter of College Republicans declined to comment.

Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Stolar can be reached at