Let’s Go Joe (It’s Time for Bold Executive Action)
By Julia Santos, Indivisible Senior Healthcare Policy Manager
Julia Santos here. You may not know me, but I am the Senior Healthcare Policy Manager here at Indivisible Project, and I am here to break down our newly launched program: Let’s Go, Joe! This is Indivisible’s program to cheer on President Biden and encourage him to take action on the issues that will most impact everyday Americans, through the use of Executive Action.
Wait…what’s executive action?
Every president works with federal agencies to implement the laws that are currently in place. However, each administration has some discretion over what exactly the laws will look like when implemented and interpreted. Essentially, executive action is the current administration giving directives to each of the federal agencies as to what the administration wants them to do. The federal agencies do this by issuing rules, regulations, and policies that further emphasize the administration’s agenda.
Take for example, the Department of Education (DOE). The Dept. of Ed was responsible for ensuring the pause on federal student loan interest rates and payments continued when President Biden gave the directive in December 2021. That would be considered an executive action by means of executive order.
You’ve likely heard executive action and executive orders used interchangeably in the media when talking about things that a President does. However they are not exactly the same — executive orders are directives from the president himself, and executive actions is a general term to describe actions taken by the executive branch.
So, broadly speaking, all executive orders are executive actions, but not all executive actions are executive orders (this NPR piece from 2014 is a good place to start to understand the difference).
So, why haven’t we moved towards pushing for more Administrative Advocacy work before?
Although executive actions are common, and typically happen at a higher volume and frequency than passing legislation, they still come with their own risks. For example, executive actions can be repealed by the next sitting president, and rules and regulations can take a great amount of time to take effect. Congress can pass new laws to limit agency authority, and ultimately some executive actions can be struck down by the courts. The fragility of how long an executive action policy will be in place is the largest reason we have prioritized focusing our capacity on legislation.
With that being said, why focus on pushing Biden right now, when it seems that usually legislation is more effective?
Given the nearly gridlocked Senate right now — like we saw in the fight to reform the filibuster and pass a voting rights bill — it is going to be very difficult to pass major legislation. We’re not giving up, but we also need solutions that aren’t held hostage by dysfunction. It’s within President Biden’s authority to deliver critical proposals like lowering prescription drug prices, canceling student debt, climate action, and much more. But it’s up to us to demand it.
What sort of executive actions do we hope to see from President Biden?
There are a lot of different actions we could push President Biden to take in this moment. At a high level, we believe that the right set of actions will translate into immediate improvements to people’s lives. We know that progressives in Congress (the same ones who created the progressive voting bloc and fought so hard to get Build Back Better through the House) are developing their own priorities for executive action, and we look forward to fighting alongside them and amplifying their demands in the weeks ahead.
However, until they solidify their full list, we’re prioritizing executive action in two key areas: climate action and canceling student debt.
The science is clear that we have very little time left to make the drastic changes needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. President Biden needs to use all the tools at his disposal to address the climate crisis. This means supporting a transition to a clean, renewable energy future, ending our reliance on dirty and costly fossil fuels, addressing pollution, and prioritizing investments to frontline communities. President Biden must keep his promise to take bold action to combat climate change and ensure a healthy habitable planet for future generations.
Canceling Student Debt
Over the past 20 years, the price of higher education has been on an exponential rise, all while wages have remained stagnant. Student loan payments have been put on pause due to the pandemic, but that is set to expire on May 1 for the nearly 45 million people holding more than $1.8 trillion in student debt. President Biden must take bold actions such as broadly canceling at least $50k of student debt now.
Hold up — why aren’t we working on doing this with democracy reform?
First, Biden has already done a big one on voting rights! Second, there are other executive actions that we’d support, but we think they’re pretty marginal compared to the larger slate our progressive allies are working on.
Lastly, the truth is that it’s hard to do EAs on democracy because of the constitution. Generally, we don’t want the executive office to make major transformative changes to how our democracy functions on a structural level without input from Congress, which is why unilateral action on this issue isn’t really possible. Consider what Trump could have done as president if it was.
Here’s where you come in:
President Biden has the authority to both cancel student debt and declare a climate emergency with the power of this signature. But he needs to hear from us, and from members of Congress (MoC), that we want him to get it done! Throughout this campaign, what we ask you to do is going to depend largely on who your members of Congress are.
- If you have a Democratic senator, call and ask them to tell President Biden to take action (Let’s Go Joe!). Your senators and members of Congress (MoCs) wake up every day worried about how they’re going to convince their constituents that they’re working for them. That makes them more accessible — and receptive to outside pressure — than a president. That is why once you have called your senator, call your Representative and ask them the same thing.
- If you have a Republican senator or representative or no congressional representation: Advocate with the administration directly. Real talk, calling the White House comment line is A LOT less effective than calling your member of Congress (MoC), BUT being in a red state and telling President Biden that you support bold executive action does give him more cover to say “see these actions are overwhelmingly popular across party lines.”
- Take our Let’s Go Joe Executive Action survey. Your responses will help us understand which potential executive actions matter most to our movement and what you’re excited to work on.
There are some other tactics in our Executive Action Explainer if you’re really excited about this work and want to do more.
The Biden administration has the power to change the course we are on. President Biden can and must take robust executive action across a multitude of issue areas to deliver for all of us. We’re in a critical moment to demand bold action from the Biden administration and, if we’re successful, win meaningful and immediate improvements to peoples’ lives.