First 100 days of Biden, Obama, Clinton: Escalating spending to address economic challenge

The first 100 days of a two-term presidency mark about 3% of the eight-year span, but since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this brief early window of opportunity has been used to judge a new commander in chief’s agenda.

President Biden’s first 100 days are sure to look different than those of Democrats past, and not just due to the unprecedented challenge of a pandemic. Economic challenge was met by greater spending under Barack Obama than by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, and even more federal largesse will be doled out by Biden if Congress gives him his way. Other priorities have differed too. 

Here’s a look at how 100-day priorities have changed among Democrats over the years. 

President Biden

Biden has made a plethora of lofty promises for his first 100 days, from COVID-19 relief to immigration, climate change, mask mandates and school openings. 

Coronavirus relief and masking

On day one of the Biden presidency, he signed an executive order issuing a mask mandate that would last the first 100 days of his presidency. 

Biden, acknowledging he didn’t have the authority to require masks in most situations, promised to require them in federal buildings, on interstate travel such as planes, trains and buses, and to work with governors and mayors on their own mask mandates. 

The president has pledged to “hit the ground running” by passing a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, weeks after former President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion relief bill into law. 


The bill will include $1,400 stimulus checks, $400-per-week boosted unemployment, tax credit expansion, rental assistance and an eviction moratorium, among other priorities. 

To pay for this, Biden has promised to increase taxes on the wealthy by eliminating Trump’s 2017 tax cuts.

Increased minimum wage

Tucked into the coronavirus relief bill is a proposal that would more than double the minimum wage, taking it from $7.25 to $15 per hour. 

Reversing Trump immigration policies 

Biden promised in June that on “day one” of his presidency he will send a DACA bill to Congress providing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. In November, he loosened that timeline to the first 100 days. 

He also reversed Trump’s travel restrictions on 13 majority-Muslim countries where terrorism was endemic, often referred to as the “Muslim ban.”

The new president signed an order Wednesday declaring the “immediate termination” of funding for the border wall. He also signed an order reversing Trump’s previous order that directed aggressive immigration enforcement. In the coming days, he’s promised to reverse Trump’s asylum limitations and the  Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). 



Climate is sure to loom at the forefront of the new administration — Biden added more than half a dozen staffers to his climate team Thursday. He’s added a seat on the national security council for John Kerry, who will serve as international climate czar. Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has been tapped to head a new White House Office of Climate Policy.

The team is expected to reinstate regulations and emissions standards the Trump administration slashed. Biden has promised they will immediately regulate oil and natural gas to curb methane production. 

On Inauguration Day, Biden signed an order for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. Another order he signed rolled back a number of Trump’s environmental actions, including revoking the permit for the Keystone pipeline.

President Obama

President Obama took office at an economically similar moment in economic history, as the U.S. was reeling from the fallout of the 2008 recession.

Economic relief 

The new president’s first priority was drumming up support for his economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. By Feb. 10, the bill had passed both the House and Senate, where Democrats had two majorities. Only three Republicans voted for the bill. 

The approximately $800 billion bill had three spending categories. It cut taxes by $288 billion; reserved $224 billion for extended unemployment benefits, education and health care spending together; and left $275 billion for jobs creation through federal contracts, grants and loans. 

The 2009 stimulus boosted federal unemployment by $25 per week, in contrast with Biden’s call for a $400-per-week boost and the $600 per week offered until July in the CARES Act. 

The Obama-era bill offered a payroll tax credit of $400 per worker in 2009 and 2010, as well as an expansion of child tax credits, college credits and homebuyer credits, among other tax incentives for companies. 

Health care reform 

Two weeks into his presidency, Obama expanded the state Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by roughly $35 billion over the next five years. The expanded program was financed with a 62-cent-per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes. The children’s health care expansion preempted the Affordable Care Act, which would be passed a year later. 

Gender pay discrimination

The first bill Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that sought to tackle the gender pay gap by extending the statute of limitations on equal-pay lawsuits. 

Military presence

Obama deployed an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan in his first 100 days, drawing the ire of progressives. The Taliban insurgency in the nation loomed over U.S. foreign policy. Then-Vice President Biden opposed the escalation of U.S. involvement.

There are only 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan, and an agreement between the Taliban and Trump stipulated that all should be removed. The Taliban called on Biden to honor the U.S. commitment Wednesday, and Biden seems ripe to do so. Last spring, he wrote in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. should withdraw a “vast majority” of its troops and “narrowly define” counterterrorism efforts. 

President Clinton

Clinton campaigned on reducing taxes for the middle class but prioritized deficit reduction in his economic agenda. 

Tax plan for deficit reduction

On Feb. 17, 1993, Clinton unveiled his economic plan. It focused on reducing the deficit, and in the process raised taxes. Many were angered after the new president had campaigned on lowering taxes for the middle class. The theory was that reducing the budget deficit would lower bond interest rates. 

The plan increased the top federal income tax rate from 31% to 39.6%, increased the corporate income tax rate, raised fuel taxes and raised various other taxes. It helped the federal government achieve its first budget surplus since the ’60s in 1997. 

The plan would later become the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which was signed into law in August of that year. It passed both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote, and Vice President Al Gore cast the tie-breaking vote in the split Senate. 

Abortion restrictions reversal 

Days into office, Clinton reversed Republican edicts on abortion, signing five abortion-related memorandums on Jan. 23, 1993, the 20th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He repealed bans on abortion counseling at federally funded clinics, abortions in military hospitals and fetal tissue research, and reversed restrictions on domestic and international family planning programs that involved abortion. 

Still, the new president reiterated a slogan he’d crafted early in the campaign, proffering an America “where abortion is safe and legal but rare.”


Paid leave 

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, signed in February 1993, was a major component of Clinton’s first-term domestic policy. The bill allowed employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a new child or ill family member, or to recover from a serious illness.

Prior to the 1992 election, the paid family leave act had been vetoed twice by President George H.W. Bush.