August Issues Update

QUICK FIX

— Biden is expected to focus on a host of tax provisions in his plan to raise some $4 trillion in revenue over a decade. Among them, he would undo some changes from 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, like raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent and increasing the highest individual income tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent, for people earning more than $400,000.

— Biden is trying to maintain party unity on health care, an issue that fueled Democratic gains in 2018 and remains a prominent concern for voters. But his leftward shift still may not be enough for some progressives. Still, Biden advisers believe they can draw a clear contract on health care with Trump, who’s urging the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare and hasn’t offered a viable replacement plan.

— Federal support for small businesses would continue under a Biden administration, with the former vice president making it a key element of his agenda for narrowing racial gaps in the economy. Biden has pledged to reserve half of emergency small business relief during the pandemic to businesses with 50 employees or fewer, including sole proprietorships and microbusinesses. He has outlined plans to direct $50 billion in public-private venture capital to minority entrepreneurs and expand access to $100 billion in low-interest business loans.

HEALTH CARE

Biden moves left on health care: Since sewing up the nomination, Biden has been tacking to the left on health care , embracing a more vigorous government-run public health insurance option and proposing to expand Medicare to nearly 23 million older adults by lowering the eligibility age from 65 to 60. While he still opposes the sweeping single-payer system championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Biden advisers say the pandemic has demanded stronger action as millions of people lose their jobs and health insurance.

On drug pricing, Biden’s plan follows the traditional Democratic playbook. He’s called for direct government negotiation of drug prices and importation of cheaper medicines from abroad — a policy that Trump also supports. Republicans have strongly opposed drug price negotiations, and Trump has abandoned his support for the idea since campaigning on it in 2016. — Jason Millman

CLIMATE JUSTICE

Biden pivots to climate justice, calls for corporate responsibility: In July, Biden revamped his climate and economic platforms to excite the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and advance racial equity in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. He’s promised to spend more money on renewable energy, with new targets like zero-emissions from American-made buses by 2030 and setting a clean-electricity standard to neutralize emissions from the power sector by 2035.

The goals are accompanied by an environmental justice plan, which pledges to target 40 percent of clean energy benefits to communities of color most exposed to industrial pollution. He’s also pledged to create a $30 billion small business fund for minority entrepreneurs. — Catherine Boudreau

EDUCATION

More federal aid for education: A centerpiece of Biden’s education plan is drastically increasing federal spending on K-12 schools and colleges and universities — a stark contrast to Trump, who has repeatedly proposed scaling back education spending (though his budget proposals have been largely ignored by Congress).

— K-12: Biden has touted a plan to nearly triple funding for low-income school districts under the Title I program. The proposal calls for boosting teacher pay and providing universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

— Higher education: Biden has proposed tuition-free public colleges and universities for all students from families earning below $125,000, and he’d double the maximum Pell grant award. He’s backed a one-time loan cancellation of up to $10,000 for each student loan borrower during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a more expansive program to forgive the undergraduate tuition-related federal student loan debt from public colleges and private HBCUs for borrowers earning up to $125,000.

— Reopening schools this fall: Biden says he’d use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of PPE to make sure there are enough masks for each school. He also says he’d develop national guidelines for school reopening in collaboration with unions and parents, but he would still leave it up to local officials to decide how or whether to reopen. Trump has threatened to take away federal funds from states that don’t physically reopen their classrooms this fall, though his authority to do so is unclear. — Michael Stratford

Boosting child care: The caregiving and education plank of Biden's economic recovery plan aims to bolster the U.S. child care industry by creating 3 million additional jobs and allowing an estimated 2 million people — mostly women — to return to the workforce, according to his campaign.

It would pay for the construction and renovation of child care facilities both within workplaces and without. It would also create sliding-scale subsidies for low-income and middle-class families. And it would support informal caregivers via a new tax credit and more.

DEFENSE

A Biden Pentagon: Defense analysts predict the Pentagon under a Biden administration would be in line for at least a modest budget cut after a Trump build-up, especially cuts on nuclear weapons spending. There would likely be, however, more investment in cutting-edge technology.

Biden would be more hawkish in Ukraine by sharply increasing lethal aid to the country, including weapons such as patrol boats and anti-ship missiles to defend against Russian coastal attacks. Increasing weapons shipments to Ukraine, Biden’s campaign says, would be part of "holistic" effort to push back on Russian influence in the eastern European country.

Progressives are also trying to push Biden leftward, urging him to oversee a fundamental rethinking of U.S. national security policy away from what they view as an over-militarized foreign policy.

Progressive groups are also pressing Biden to staff his transition team and administration with personnel with those views. — Connor O’Brien

TECH AND CYBERSECURITY

Investing in breakthrough tech: Biden has pledged to invest in 5G wireless technology, artificial intelligence, electric vehicles and other “breakthrough technologies” as part of a $300 billion research and development fund he's proposing to stimulate the economy. Those were some of the most tangible technology proposals he’s offered after a primary season in which some of his rivals seized on these issues more explicitly — leaving his stances on some prominent tech debates still a bit of a puzzle.

Among them: Does he still believe that the tech industry’s much-prized shield against lawsuits over user-posted content “should be revoked immediately,” as he told The New York Times in January — a stance that puts him in some agreement with the president? Would he push the FCC to restore its Obama-era net neutrality policies? More broadly, would his regulators attempt to break up big tech companies like Facebook — something his former primary rival Elizabeth Warren explicitly promised — or continue to press the antitrust lawsuit against Google that prosecutors in Trump’s Justice Department expect to file in the coming months?

Biden also has yet to explain how he’ll approach a range of cybersecurity issues, including the tug of war on encryption — a debate that Trump’s attorney general and congressional allies like Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have recently revived by demanding that law enforcement gain easier access to the scrambled communications in people’s smartphones and messaging apps.

Cyber-watchers are also waiting for more details from Biden on protecting the U.S. telecommunications supply chain from China and other adversaries ; waging offensive cyber operations against malicious actors in Iran and elsewhere; and building a global consensus around responsible digital behavior.

Even on the issue of election security — an issue with which he is intimately familiar from the searing experience of 2016 — Biden has said little about what he would do as president.

On July 20, his campaign released a statement about foreign election interference, but it offered few specifics. The unknowns include what the former vice president thinks about issues such as internet voting, the federal government’s role in election administration and oversight of the highly concentrated election technology industry. — Bob King and Eric Geller

AGRICULTURE AND TRADE

Deals dependent on U.S. priorities: Don’t expect a quick return to the free-trading days of the Obama administration, when the U.S. spearheaded global efforts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in a Biden presidency.

His campaign says Biden would not negotiate any new trade deals until he persuades Congress to pass spending on his domestic priorities, particularly his plan to revamp the Buy American program to make the federal government buy more U.S.-made products.

China pressure: The campaign insists Biden would reengage U.S. allies spurned by Trump’s go-it-alone trade policy to combat China on technology issues and its use of state subsidies to support its domestic industry. But those efforts would be “distinct" from any multi-country agreement, a senior campaign official said. And it's still unclear whether Biden would rescind some of the Trump administration’s tariffs or sanctions on China.

Domestic analysts say there’s still internal contention in the Biden camp between those who want to liberalize trade, some who still favor TPP as a tool to confront China and more populist proponents who want to push deep revisions to global trading agreements and institutions like the World Trade Organization.

Agricultural trade: Expect Biden to leverage the U.S. relationship with allies to negotiate a trade deal with China that doesn’t hurt American farmers. Republicans continue to urge producers to remain patient with Trump’s aggressive approach to trade relations with China as they stick to their promise that agricultural exports will recover as China commits to buying more U.S. farm goods.

Expand public research dollars: Biden would also likely boost investment in agricultural research programs at land grant universities so that more public institutions own patents to innovations instead of private institutions.

Net-zero emissions: Additionally a Biden administration would likely partner with farmers to use agriculture to capture carbon and fight climate change, in part by investing in USDA’s flagship conservation program that would financially reward farmers for sustainable practices like planting cover crops. Corporate agriculture has been wary of proposals to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, such as the Green New Deal. — Liz Crampton

TAX WATCH

A Biden tax scorecard: For those who earn more than $1 million, Biden would tax capital gains as ordinary income. Other changes he’s proposed for higher-income taxpayers would phase out a deduction for small businesses and partnerships and put limits on itemized deductions they can take.

In response, Republicans have generally argued that Biden would increase taxes across the board and sap the economy of growth potential in the process, which they label particularly problematic in the current recession. — Aaron Lorenzo

Tax clampdown: Biden plans to pay for his $640 billion housing investment through a new tax on corporations and large financial institutions. His campaign specifies another proposed fee on asset management firms handling more than $50 billion.

HOUSING AND THE FED

War over the suburbs: One of the biggest fault lines between Biden and Trump is over expanding low-income housing in the suburbs. The former vice president would restore the original version of the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, a sweeping regulation developed by the Obama administration to crack down on housing segregation. The Trump administration suspended the rule in 2018 and last month replaced it with a much weaker regulation.

Affordable housing: Biden would funnel $640 billion into housing over 10 years. He would create a $100 billion fund to build and upgrade affordable housing and expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit to offer an incentive to build more affordable units. He would also create a new refundable tax credit of up to $15,000 to help people buy their first home.

To help renters, he would dramatically boost funding for the Section 8 housing voucher program, expanding it to cover “every eligible family so that no one has to pay more than 30 percent of their income for rental housing.” And he would bolster legal protections for tenants facing eviction.

Expanding Fed mandate: Biden wants to add another element to the Federal Reserve’s congressional mandate, requiring the central bank to regularly provide data on racial inequality. He says the Fed should “aggressively enhance its surveillance and targeting of persistent racial gaps” throughout the economy, as well as increase diversity within its ranks.

Direct payments: As part of a “unity” plan developed with Sanders, Biden has indicated his support for allowing consumers to have direct accounts at the Fed, which could allow for faster transfer of the kind of relief checks Congress has been sending out during this crisis, as well as allowing the U.S. Postal Service to provide certain financial services. — Mark McQuillan

MINIMUM WAGE

More for minimum wage: Biden says he’d push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate the so-called tipped wage, which allows employers to count tips toward servers’ mandated wages. The federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, when it was hiked to $7.25.

Republicans have long been opposed to raising the minimum wage, arguing any increase in payroll costs would lead to job cuts.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it won’t support a $15 minimum. Still, it told lawmakers last year it would back a “double-digit” minimum if lawmakers agree to make changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, keep the lower minimum for tipped workers and make other technical changes to protect employers from litigation.

The right to organize: Biden would also sign into law the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO, which would strengthen workers' ability to unionize, and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act, which would extend overtime, health and safety protections. The Democratic measures would cement childcare and other workers' right to participate in collective bargaining, as well as aim to improve their conditions at work. — Rebecca Rainey and Eleanor Mueller

CANNABIS

Biden’s mixed messaging on weed: Biden is out of step with Democratic voters when it comes to marijuana policy. They overwhelmingly support legalization, but he’s pushing a more incremental — and somewhat confusing — approach.

Biden wants to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession, expand research and reclassify marijuana from the most restrictive category of the Controlled Substances Act. But those proposals conflict with each other: Thousands of Americans would still go to prison for possessing narcotics under the category Biden proposes, which includes cocaine and methamphetamines.

Party insiders have aligned themselves with Biden’s stance. The “unity” platform crafted by a mix of supporters of Biden and Sanders largely backed Biden’s views. And an effort to amend the party’s official platform to support marijuana legalization failed by a more than 2-to-1 vote.

Biden hasn’t taken a stance on the industry’s No. 1 priority: cannabis banking legislation. Lack of access to loans and other financial services has stymied the industry’s growth. The SAFE Banking Act passed the House last September by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, but stalled in the Senate. — Paul Demko

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