Domestic Affairs

Examining the Policy Goals of a Potential Biden Administration

American voters have a history of viewing elections as nothing more than a choice between the lesser of two evils. This has often led to a sense that politics is irrelevant and that choosing between the two candidates at the top of the ticket is a distinction without a difference. The November 2020 election doesn’t seem to be any different. It is easy to agree with this view and not look too hard into either candidate. Still, it is crucial to recognize that for millions of Americans, this election will have far-reaching consequences on every aspect of their lives. Biden is set to potentially enter the White House with a trifecta of government — the Presidency, House, and the Senate. Such a scenario would allow him to implement significant widespread change. Therefore, it is our responsibility to examine the policies the Biden administration hopes to achieve and whether or not they will be effective solutions to our present problems. 

The Economy

If Biden wins the presidency, his first undertaking will be to rebuild the economy. Fortunately, the former Vice-President has some experience with managing global recessions. The Obama administration entered the White House at the peak of the 2008 recession and chose to place Biden in charge of the recovery

His efforts were generally successful. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased access to tax credits, provided loans to small businesses, and created jobs by funding infrastructure. Recessions tied to bank collapse are especially lengthy, but despite that, the economy exited the recession only four months after the ARRA was made law. Structural failures in our financial system caused the dot-com bubble, the financial crisis, and every other recession as well. Our current economic plight, on the other hand, was triggered and continues to be fueled by COVID-19. Although no two recessions are ever exactly alike, the campaign has already put forward a plan to bring back the economy to full steam. Biden and his team have effectively put forward a plan that addresses this recession’s unique nature. 

Systematic flaws didn’t initiate the economic downturn, so, unlike last time, it would make no sense for the Biden administration to focus its attention there. Instead, the Biden plan would increase funding to the public sector to bring back jobs. In particular, the government would spend more money on teachers, frontline workers, and a program they call the Public Health Jobs Corps. 

In the long term, this plan is an effective way of dealing with both COVID-19 and the economy in one fell swoop. The public sector is the largest employer in the United States, and strengthening it would go a long way towards keeping people working. Furthermore, increasing the amount of testing and contact tracing through the Public Health Jobs Corps would simultaneously help the nation control the pandemic. However, short term solutions are still required. A stimulus is necessary to help keep Americans afloat and ensure that some level of consumer spending continues to flow. Without further aid, any economic plans the former Vice-President hopes to implement will inevitably fail. 

Restructuring the tax code will be vital for Biden to finance his plans. Negotiations for such a project would likely not occur until after COVID-19 has been controlled and would likely accompany his permanent spending hikes. The Biden plan would roll back many of the cuts Trump made in his 2017 bill but maintain the current tax rate for those making under $400,000. In particular, income taxes for those making over $400,000 would increase to 39.6%, the corporate income tax rate would rise to 28%, and Social Security payroll taxes would grow to 12.4%. Of course, a progressive tax rate, deductions, and credits mean that no one will be forfeiting 40% of their income. 

Moody has predicted that the plan would increase the GDP by 4.5% by the end of 2024 compared with the current outlook under a continuation of President Trump’s policies. The boost results from stimulus outweighing the effects of increased taxation on individuals who usually do not drive growth. The plan would also contribute towards shoring up the deficit. Some critics predict that Vice President Biden’s plan would shrink GDP. The central criticism is that higher taxes would reduce available capital, which would discourage investment and job creation. However, it is essential to note that even among credible right-leaning groups, the most considerable impact they expect is a 0.16% reduction over the next decade.

Foreign Policy

Biden has admitted that although he would reduce our troop presence abroad, we will still need boots on the ground to prevent terrorism from spreading further. The former Vice-President is aiming for a figure between 1,500-2,000 and plans on focusing that troop presence on fighting Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Armed forces would remain in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they would work through local forces to counter-terrorism. Continued troop presence means that America’s longest war will likely continue for the time being, if on a smaller scale. 

Although Biden has dedicated himself to continue the fight against terrorism, he seems to have less appetite for endless wars in other parts of the world. UNICEF presently identifies the war in Yemen as the single largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The Saudi-led coalition has been in an intense deadlock with Houthi rebels in the country for over five years now with no end to the conflict in sight. Saudi Arabia has committed numerous war crimes against civilians with the support of the United States through arms sales. Biden has vowed to end those arms sales as well as any further support for the Saudi led war in Yemen. 

Biden’s planned withdrawal has been politically popular for quite some time. The proposal to end U.S. complicity in what many have referred to as genocide has received overwhelming support from Democrats. The consensus seems to be that ending the sales of weapons to the Saudis would put a definitive end to the war once and for all. Saudi Arabia buys nearly all their munitions from the U.S., and the U.S. also plays a key role in providing the supplies necessary for the steady upkeep of Saudi bomber planes. The idea is that if the U.S. stopped providing munitions for the Saudi-led coalition, it would only be a matter of time before they ran out. This time would likely be spent on negotiating a peaceful end to the conflict. 

Much like Obama, Biden seems to be a staunch institutionalist, so it is no surprise that he has consistently been outspoken about his support for NATO. The former Vice-President has framed NATO as necessary to counter the threat of growing Russian influence, bringing it closer to its original mission. The explicit promise to move away from the increasingly isolationist approach of the Trump administration is intended to signal to allies and adversaries that America is willing to play a bigger role on the world stage. Member states were quick to notice the contrast between Biden and Trump and have announced an early summit with Biden if he were to win the November election. 

Healthcare

A Biden healthcare plan would unsurprisingly not be all that different from Obamacare. It would instead serve as a renewal and fulfillment of the more lofty goals the Obamacare administration had. The distinguishing feature between the status quo and the Biden alternative is the implementation of a public option. Essentially, if you do not like the healthcare provided by your employer, you can buy into a public option provided by the federal government, which would have similar bargaining power to Medicare. 

Medicare pays incredibly low prices when compared with private insurance because its large size gives it a remarkable amount of bargaining power. A public option would similarly be able to negotiate cheaper prices that would drastically cut the price of insuring so many. Coupled with renewed higher enrollment rates means high rates associated with pre-existing conditions would continue dropping as the cost is spread out throughout society. 

Biden is also promising lower premiums. Generous tax credits already make insurance decently affordable for poorer Americans, but they cap out at 400% of the federal poverty rate. This means that a family of four bringing in $100,000 receives no tax credits on healthcare. A Biden administration would expand those tax credits to encompass more Americans and aim to ensure that no family spends more than 8.5% of their income on healthcare. The proposed plan has a price tag of $750 billion over the next 10 years, which the Biden campaign argues will be offset by lower prices. 

Lastly, on Social Security, Biden plans to increase the number of benefits Americans receive by raising the cap on Social Security payroll taxes to apply to incomes above $400,000. The plan would increase payments to recipients by over $400, guaranteeing recipients live above the federal poverty line. If successful this plan would go a long way towards avoiding an unsustainable Social Security. The Vice President views Social Security as the bedrock of American retirement. Millions of Americans have worked their entire lives with the promise of a peaceful retirement waiting for them. Biden has taken the responsibility of making sure that promise is kept. 

The Environment

Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our generation. The projected effects range from mass migrations on multiple continents on the low end to species extinction on the high end. The Biden campaign has repeatedly framed its climate plan as the most zealous effort from Washington in decades. If the plan is successful in achieving its ambitions, it may just be. 

The Biden plan sets out a few key benchmarks that it will use as a measure of success. First, Biden wants the U.S. to get 100% of its electricity from clean sources by 2035. Americans presently only receive about 17% of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Bringing that number up will require significant capital investments into renewables. The U.S. spends significant amounts of money on subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. The IMF estimates the United States spent nearly $650 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2015. Meanwhile, the top 24 publicly-listed oil companies combined spent a meager $3.38 billion on renewable energy in 2018. When the country was attempting to reach energy independence in the quickest and cheapest manner possible these subsidies made sense. Now, not so much. As a result, the Biden plan would move at least a significant portion of these subsidies towards renewable energy. The hope is that the pool of cash will incentivize investments, which can work out the kinks with clean energy and expand it nation-wide. 

The next step of the Biden plan is to bring the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Electricity use is only the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The largest source is transportation, and because most vehicles run off of fossil fuels, we need to achieve a dramatic shift to really bring us closer to this goal. Biden plans on achieving net-zero carbon emissions by providing financial incentives for electric vehicles. 

Lastly, keeping in line with his persistent calls for the U.S. to rejoin our allies on the global stage, Biden has promised to re-enter into the Paris Climate Accord. This is a positive step from the status quo, but even if Biden fulfills this promise, we will be no closer to achieving international cooperation on climate than we were four years ago. The Paris Climate agreement is largely seen as a failure due to its lack of enforcing power. Fortunately, the Biden campaign has already announced that they would pursue a global climate summit to advance even more monumental goals. 

Although the plan has been referred to as the most ambitious climate plan of any U.S. presidential candidate, it is still likely to fall short. We have already raced past several crucial tipping points, thus ensuring some degree of warming. The question now is whether we can mitigate further climate disasters. The Biden plan is an ambitious first step towards reaching climate goals, but if we hope to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we will need to be even more ambitious. 
Biden is promising to bring America back to normal. Despite having a challenging mission ahead of him, he seems to be on the right path. The problem is whether or not a “normal” America is enough to solve the global problems we’re facing. Between institutional fracturing, worsening climate change, and a global pandemic, Biden will have to look beyond the typical limitations of American politics if he has any hope of creating real change. If he fails, Americans will once again be picking the “lesser evil. “

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