President-elect Joe Biden is on his way to the White House after winning both the popular vote and an estimated 306 electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election, but which Biden is the country going to get?
Will it be a President Biden who embraces policies espoused by the farther left-leaning voices in his party, or the moderate Biden, whom voters remember from his days in the Senate? Midstate business leaders say that will depend on which party wins control of the Senate.
The Senate majority will be decided by two run-off elections on Jan. 5, in two, too-close-to-call seats in Georgia. If Democrats win both contests, the Senate will be split evenly between both parties, giving the tie-breaking vote to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“People’s perspective of a Biden presidency is shaped by whether or not the Republicans continue to control the Senate,” said Thomas Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. “If they do continue to control the Senate, there is an expectation that his presidency will be more to the center, and if the Democrats control the senate his presidency will be pulled left.”
For many midstate businesses, however, the matter of who is president matters less than the more pressing matter of knowing when the country can expect a fourth wave of COVID-19 stimulus. The number of coronavirus cases in the state is rising exponentially and many businesses continue to operate in the red.
On Nov. 18, the state Department of Health reported 6,339 positive cases, the highest one-day count since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We’ve talked to people about this and I will tell you that the overwhelming response has been, ‘how do we deal with COVID and keep our people safe?’” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “That was much more so than ‘who will be president?’”
Biden’s plan to combat COVID-19, states that as president he will be “taking immediate, bold measures to help Americans who are hurting economically right now.” Those measures, according to the Biden campaign, will include direct federal support and a renewable fund to state and local governments that could be used to provide mortgage and rental relief for impacted workers, interest-free loans for small businesses and help employers keep workers on the job.
The Biden administration will also be looking to establish a temporary small- and medium-sized business loan facility that will offer interest-free loans to businesses during the pandemic.
Assuming the country is able to find a way around the pandemic in the coming months, a Democrat in the White House could mean the end of regulatory rollbacks, which were a hallmark of President Trump’s tenure, and one that proved positive for many chamber members, said David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC.
“A lot of businesses I’ve talked to were generally happy with the policy initiatives under the Trump administration,” Black said. “They were not necessarily happy with how (the administration) conducted business but they were happy with the policies.”
Early in his presidency, President Trump signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to cut two regulations for every one they create. Biden could potentially revoke the order in his first days in office. The president-elect has already pledged to walk back a number of Trump era orders.
Black is finding that many business owners are optimistic about a President Biden thanks to his long standing relationships with Republicans.
While many businesses prospered under the Trump administration, they are also looking to escape an administration whose uncertain nature proved hard to build long-range plans around.
“I’ve heard from people, frankly, even from those that support Trump, that are looking forward to more stability and less drama,” said Baldrige. “Which may make planning and day-to-day business easier. That might be the gain in a Biden presidency.”
Despite the potential positives of a Biden presidency, chamber leaders across the region have heard a number of concerns regarding Biden’s platform, or the goals of his fellow Democrat, such as raising the minimum wage.
Biden has mentioned on a number of occasions that as president he would fight to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, something that could spell doom for small businesses.
Biden’s platform specifies that he will work to not only raise the federal minimum wage to $15, but also include workers who aren’t currently earning the minimum wage. The platform also notes that he has previously supported eliminating the tipped minimum wage.
For restaurants already struggling to survive the pandemic, a raise in the minimum wage is the last thing they need, Barr said.
“Federal minimum wage is just unfair,” he said. “The cost of doing business in New York City, versus Harrisburg or Greene County, Pennsylvania, is totally different.”
An increase in taxation for Pennsylvania businesses could also act as a one-two punch alongside the pandemic, according to Baldrige, who said it’s the wrong time to raise taxes and the wrong time to saddle midstate businesses with more regulations.
“I would suggest that the priority of the list they are working from needs to be more immediate and that would necessitate another round of stimulus funds, which will be necessary to get companies through the winter,” he said.