It's fair to say Joe Biden's electability has been discussed more than his policies. The former vice president is defined by what he is not – radical or revolutionary – and is seen by many Democrats as the candidate best suited to challenge President Trump in today's deeply polarized political landscape. He picked up high profile endorsements as soon as he announced he was running for the third time in his career and will likely be the nominee after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign on April 8, 2020.
The 77-year-old's economic agenda is not as detailed as others and does not contain similar sweeping proposals, but his plan for the U.S. is still ambitious and represents more than a reassuring reset button for Americans rattled by Trump. He has also shown signs that he's willing to pivot to the left to win over Sanders supporters. He proposed two new policies to "ease the economic burden on working people" a day after the democratic socialist dropped out of the race.
The American Middle Class
Revitalizing the middle class and making it more racially inclusive is the cornerstone of Biden's campaign. "This country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs and hedge fund managers. It was built by the American middle class," he said at a rally kicking off his campaign. Although this sounds like something Bernie Sanders would say, Biden has cast himself as a moderate with sensible, achievable plans rather than the leader of "a revolution" against economic inequality. "I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble," he said in a speech at a Brookings Institution event in 2018. "The folks at the top aren’t bad guys."
But he does believe a growing and thriving middle class, which he likes to think of more in terms of values and lifestyle rather than an income group, is important for social and political stability in the U.S. He blames the lack of opportunities and optimism in the country for "phony populism" and "a younger generation that’s questioning the very essence of our capitalist system."
According to Pew Research, 52% of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2016. These are adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size. The annual income range for a middle class household of three in 2016 was $45,200 to $135,600. The U.S. has a proportionally smaller middle class than many advanced economies, and the income disparity between groups in the middle class is growing, according to Pew. Moreover, while the top 20% have fully recovered from the Great Recession, the middle class has not yet reached its previous peak in 2007, according to Brookings experts.
"Folks in the middle class are in trouble. It’s not just their perception. They are in trouble," said Biden.
Official data says the the uninsured rate rose for the first time since 2008-2009 to 8.5% of the U.S. population in 2018 from 7.9% in 2017, and Biden blamed the Trump administration's countless attacks on the Affordable Care Act in a tweet. As president, he promises to protect and build on ACA. Although he wants to ensure health care is a right for all and not a privilege, he does not support Medicare for All and eliminating private insurance because it would mean getting rid of the hard-won Obamacare and starting over on political negotiations. He also argued during the September 12 debate that Medicare for All would cost more than $30 trillion over 10 years.
Biden says his health care proposal will expand Obamacare so that 97% of Americans are insured and cost $750 billion over 10 years. He wants to introduce a public health insurance option like Medicare that will be available premium-free to individuals in states that haven't expanded Medicaid and people making below 138% of the federal poverty level.
He wants to also eliminate the 400% of federal poverty level income cap for tax credit eligibility and lower employees' maximum contribution for coverage to 8.5%. In addition to this, he promises to bar health care providers from “surprise billing” patients with out-of-network rates, address market concentration in the industry, allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers, establish an independent review board that will recommend a reasonable price for drugs with no competition, penalize drug price increases over the inflation rate, end tax deduction for all prescription drug ads, support the development of generics and restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
On April 9, Biden announced he will fight for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 from 65. "It reflects the reality that, even after the current crisis ends, older Americans are likely to find it difficult to secure jobs," he said in a Medium post discussing the soaring unemployment caused by COVID-19 and measures needed to help those affected. The additional cost he said will be "financed out of general revenues to protect the Medicare Trust Fund."
Biden wants a pro-growth, progressive tax code. His plan is expected to raise nearly $4 trillion in additional revenue over a decade. According to the Tax Policy Center, "The highest-income 20% of households (who will make about $170,000 or more) would bear nearly 93% of the burden of Biden’s proposed tax increase, and the top 1% nearly three-quarters." Here's a list of changes he wants to make:
- Raise the top income tax rate back to 39.6% from 37%
- Tax capital gains and dividends at ordinary rates for those with annual incomes over $1 million
- Tax unrealized capital gains at death
- Applying Social Security payroll tax for those earning over $400,000 a year
- Close stepped-up basis loophole
- Raise top corporate income tax rate to 28% from 21%
- Impose 15% minimum tax on book income of large companies (at least $100 million annual net income)
- Tax profits earned from foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms 21%
Soon after Sanders suspended his run, Biden expanded his student debt plan and said he wants to forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt of those who make up to $125,000 and attended two- and four-year public colleges and universities, historically black colleges and universities and underfunded minority-serving institutions. He says he will fund this by repealing the high-income "excess business losses" tax cut in the CARES Act. "That tax cut overwhelmingly benefits the richest Americans and is unnecessary for addressing the current COVID-19 economic relief efforts," he said.
He has several other federal student debt proposals including, immediately cancelling a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person (Sen. Elizabeth Warren's idea), forgiving the remainder of loans after 20 years with no tax burden, suspending monthly payments and interest of those earning less than $25,000 per year and capping payments at 5% of discretionary income for the rest, and additional federal loan forgiveness of up to $50,000 over five years for those who participate in public service.
Biden has also borrowed Sanders' plan to make public colleges and universities free for all regardless of income and applied it to just families whose income is below $125,000. "It's a good idea, and after consideration, I am proud to add it to my platform," he tweeted March 15.
Biden has "fully endorsed and adopted" Sen. Warren's plan to change the personal bankruptcy laws he helped shape. Titled "Fixing Our Bankruptcy System to Give People a Second Chance," it makes student loans dischargeable. The proposal is to streamline and simplify the process of filing for bankruptcy to make it cheaper and more flexible.
Biden supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15. He also wants to give workers more bargaining power by getting rid of "abusive" non-compete clauses, removing rules in contracts that prevent employees from discussing pay with each other, and stopping companies from classifying low wage workers as managers in order to avoid paying them overtime. He also wants international trade rules that "protect our workers, safeguard the environment, uphold labor standards and middle-class wages, foster innovation, and take on big global challenges like corporate concentration, corruption, and climate change."
Infrastructure and Climate Change
As vice president, Biden once called New York's LaGuardia a third-world airport in a speech about infrastructure in the U.S. "Look, we need roads, we need waterways, we need ports to move our products. We need highways and transit to get workers to and from work. We need lightning-fast broadband to communicate. It’s not a luxury. It’s an absolutely necessity to compete with the rest of the world," he said at Brookings. "We need a massive investment in infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, broadband. We’ve been lagging for too many years now, and we can afford it."
He wants to spend $1.3 trillion on infrastructure over a decade. This includes $50 billion in his first year in office on repairing roads, highways and bridges, $20 billion on rural broadband infrastructure, $400 billion over 10 years on a federal new agency to conduct clean energy research and innovation, $5 billion over five years on electric car battery technology and $10 billion over 10 years on transit projects that serve high-poverty areas.
Biden's website says he supports the idea of a Green New Deal, he will rejoin the Paris agreement, and he wants to ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050. In order to build a 100% clean energy economy, he plans to sign a series of executive orders and push Congress to enact legislation. His plan to tackle climate change will require federal spending of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years. He doesn't want a ban on fracking, but will ban new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore.
Climate change is undeniably a weak spot for Biden's campaign. Commentators have written about him struggling when posed with questions on the issue and his plan being "more inoffensive than robust" and "underfunded." At September's CNN Climate Town Hall he revealed he was unaware that a fundraiser he was attending the next day was co-hosted by a co-founder of Western LNG, a company that builds natural gas facilities.
Biden wants to help rural communities, which make up 20% of the U.S. population, by fighting for fair trade deals, investing $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure, creating low-carbon manufacturing jobs, reinvesting in agricultural research, improving access to federal resources and funds for farming or small businesses, expanding health services and medical training programs and spending 10% of federal program funding in areas with persistent poverty.