Biden Focused On Economy, Inequality 06/04 06:26
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Joe Biden is pledging to unveil a series of proposals in
coming weeks aimed at reversing the economic devastation wrought by the
coronavirus pandemic and addressing inequalities that have contributed to
protests sweeping the country.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his aides see some
parallels to the last time his party wrested the White House from Republicans.
The economic collapse during the final stages of the 2008 presidential campaign
gave Barack Obama, with Biden as his running mate, an opportunity to present
clear contrasts with GOP policies and make the case for sweeping overhauls.
The dynamics are far more complicated today. The current crisis was prompted
not by poor bank lending practices but by a dramatic freeze in American life
that began in March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Joblessness
is at levels not seen since the Great Depression. And as some states and cities
reopen, the protests responding to the police killing of George Floyd have
spurred calls to address inequalities rooted in systemic racism.
"To have true justice in America, we need economic justice," Biden said this
week in Philadelphia. "The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic
racism, to deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation and to deal
with the denial of the promise of this nation."
Unemployment numbers from May will be released Friday, providing an updated
picture of just how challenging Biden's job may be if he wins the presidency.
The former vice president says the plans to be unveiled this month will
focus on housing, education and access to capital. In the meantime, he's held
daily economic briefings, including from chief economists from the Obama
administration, Jared Bernstein and Ben Harris, and Heather Boushey, a
progressive economist who advised Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.
Jake Sullivan, Biden's senior policy adviser, said there's been more of an
emphasis on job creation and the issues holding back the labor market since the
coronavirus outbreak began.
"We really accelerated our work in that area, both in terms of how the
policy team reaches out to experts, and in terms of how the vice president
spends his time and structures his economic briefings," he said.
Biden's campaign has hinted it would like to pursue an even more expansive
set of reforms than those proposed by Obama in the wake of the financial
crisis. That includes aid to middle-class families rather than corporations,
bolstering workers' rights and removing some of the barriers to expansion in
the labor force, like boosting access and government support for child and
elder care. It has also discussed returning the supply chain to the U.S. and
investments in green infrastructure to create jobs.
"They are realities about the underlying structure of the American economy
that have just been laid bare by this pandemic," Bernstein said.
Biden, who ran a centrist campaign to win the primary, was moving to the
left on some economic issues before the virus hit. That's part of an effort to
woo progressives who've shunned him. He supported a minimum-wage increase,
adopted some of Bernie Sanders' free college tuition plan and embraced
Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy reform plan.
His campaign is also working with Sanders' advisers to find more common
ground on top issues.
But as Biden and other alumni of the Obama administration can attest, grand
ambitions sometimes meet more challenging realities. A new administration
generally has about one year to usher its biggest proposals through Congress
before attention turns to the midterm elections and the president's own
Even in the best of times, that can be challenging. Initially benefiting
from strong Democratic majorities in Congress, Obama muscled through an $800
billion economic stimulus and major health care and financial services reforms
before Republicans took control of the House and blocked most of his agenda.
"When the tea party got there in 2010, it's not that the Obama team didn't
go far enough, it's that Congress blocked us," Bernstein said.
While Democrats are increasingly bullish about their odds of taking control
of the Senate, there's little chance that they would gain the filibuster-proof
majorities they had at points during the Obama years, forcing a Biden
administration to work with some Republicans.
That, along with the urgency of preventing additional waves of the virus,
could make it hard for Biden to deliver on his biggest priorities.
Austan Goolsbee, Obama's chief economic adviser during the 2008 campaign who
later served on the Council of Economic Advisers, noted there was a similar
concern during those years that simply reacting to the economic crisis could
take the focus off progressive priorities. There's a risk of that happening
now, he said.
The focus on the bleak economy "means climate change and criminal justice
reform, and some of the other issues not that they aren't important, just
they're not going to be the first thing on people's minds," Goolsbee said.
Still, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants and a
leader of the joint Biden-Sanders policy task force on the economy, said that
making sweeping changes to the economy should be more urgent now not less.
"The coronavirus is laying bare all of the holes in our economic platform,"
Of course, Biden must win the election before he can accomplish anything.
And President Donald Trump argues that he presided over an economic boom and
can do it again if voters give him another term in office.
"Americans know the economy reached unprecedented heights under President
Trump's leadership before it was artificially interrupted by the coronavirus
and they know he will build it back up a second time," said Trump campaign
spokeswoman Sarah Matthews.
Bernstein said even if there is a recovery, "we're going to be pointing to
"We're not going to let him wiggle out of his horrifically irresponsible
response to the crisis," he said. "The idea that Trump built a great economy
and then the virus came along and now he's rebuilding it again just simply
doesn't correspond to the facts."