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 has consistently beaten Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris in the presidential primary polls and picked up high profile endorsements as soon as he announced he was running for the third time in his career.
The 76-year-old's economic agenda is not as detailed as some of his rivals 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.
The American Middle Class
Revitalizing the middle class and making it more racially inclusive is the cornerstone of Biden's campaign. If you visit his official campaign website, you'll see in bold characters this message – "This country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs and hedge fund managers. It was built by the American middle class." Although this sounds like something Sanders or Warren would say, Biden has made it a point to distance himself from them. "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.
Recent official data says the the uninsured rate rose for the first time since 2008-2009 to 8.5% of the U.S. population 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 will also increase the value of tax credits so that Americans can afford better coverage, 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.
Biden wants a pro-growth, progressive tax code. He proposes raising the top income tax rate back to 39.6%, making those with annual incomes over $1 million pay 39.6% on capital gains instead of 20%, reducing tax expenditures that benefit investors or job creators and closing tax loopholes like stepped-up basis in order to to pay for programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Improve the Workforce
Biden believes expanding the educated workforce will help the economy. He wants to make two years of community college free for qualified students in order to boost the GDP. In the past he has mentioned making state universities free as well, but appears to have dropped the proposal now.
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. Biden supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15. 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."
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."
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.
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.
His website says he supports the idea of a Green New Deal and 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 involves the federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, including $400 billion toward clean energy research and innovation.