By The Associated Press
By Bill Barrow
WASHINGTON — Stop. Stabilize. Then move — but in a vastly different direction.
President-elect Joe Biden is pledging a new path for the nation after Donald Trump’s four years in office. That starts with confronting a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans and extends to sweeping plans on health care, education, immigration and more.
The 78-year-old Democrat has pledged immediate executive actions that would reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and rescind the outgoing president’s ban on immigration from certain Muslim nations.
His first legislative priority is a $1.9 trillion (all figures U.S.) pandemic response package, but there are plans to send an immigration overhaul to Capitol Hill out of the gate, as well.
He’s also pledged an aggressive outreach to American allies around the world who had strained relationships with Trump. And though one key initiative has been overshadowed as the pandemic has worsened, Biden hasn’t backed away from his call to expand the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a public option, a government-insurance plan to compete alongside private insurers.
It’s an unapologetically liberal program reflecting Biden’s argument that the federal government exists to help solve big problems. Persuading enough voters and members of Congress to go along will test another core Biden belief: that he can unify the country into a governing consensus.
What a Biden presidency could look like:
ECONOMY, TAXES AND THE DEBT
Biden argues the economy cannot fully recover until the coronavirus is contained.
He argues that his $1.9 trillion response plan is necessary to avoid extended recession. Among other provisions, it would send Americans $1,400 relief checks, extend more generous unemployment benefits and moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, and boost businesses. Biden also wants expanded child tax credits, child care assistance and a $15-an-hour minimum wage — a provision sure to draw fierce Republican opposition.
Biden acknowledges his call for deficit spending but says higher deficits in the near term will prevent damage that would not only harm individuals but also weaken the economy in ways that would be even worse for the national balance sheet.
He also calls his plan a down payment on his pledge to address wealth inequality that disproportionately affects nonwhite Americans. He plans a second major economic package later in 2021; that’s when he’d likely ask Congress to consider his promised tax overhauls to roll back parts of the 2017 GOP tax rewrite benefiting corporations and the wealthy.
Biden wants a corporate income tax rate of 28 per cent — lower than before but higher than now — and broad income and payroll tax increases for individuals with more than $400,000 of annual taxable income. That would generate an estimated $4 trillion or more over 10 years, money Biden would want steered toward his infrastructure, health care and energy programs.
Before Biden proposed his pandemic relief bill, an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that Biden’s campaign proposals would increase the national debt by about $5.6 trillion over 10 years, though that would be a significantly slower rate of increase than what occurred under Trump.
The national debt now stands at more than $25 trillion.
Biden promises a more robust national coronavirus vaccination system. Ditching Trump’s strategy of putting most of the pandemic response on governors’ desks, Biden says he’ll marshal the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to distribute vaccines while using the nation’s network of private pharmacies.
As he said as a candidate, Biden plans to invoke the Defence Production Act, aimed at the private sector, to increase vaccine supplies and related materials. The wartime law allows a president to direct the manufacture of critical goods.
Much of Biden’s plans depend on Congress approving financing, such as $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.
Beyond legislation, Biden will require masks on all federal property, urge governors and mayors to use their authority to impose mask mandates and ask Americans for 100 days of mask-wearing in an effort to curb the virus.
Biden also promises to deviate from Trump by putting science and medical advisers front and centre to project a consistent message. Meanwhile, Biden will immediately have the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization.
The incoming White House has tried to manage expectations. Biden said several times in recent weeks that the pandemic would likely get worse before any changes in policy and public health practices show up in COVID-19 statistics.
Biden wants to build on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law through a “Medicare-like public option” to compete alongside private insurance markets for working-age Americans. He’d also increase premium subsidies many people already use.
Biden’s approach could get a kick-start in the pandemic response bill by expanding subsidies for consumers using existing ACA exchanges. The big prize, a “public option,” remains a heavy lift in a closely divided Congress. Biden has not detailed when he’d ask Congress to consider the matter.
Biden estimates his public option would cost about $750 billion over 10 years. It still stops short of progressives’ call for a government-run system to replace private insurance altogether.
The administration also must await a Supreme Court decision on the latest case challenging the 2010 health care law known as “Obamacare.”
On prescription drugs, Biden supports allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for government programs and private payers. He’d prohibit drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation for people covered by Medicare and other federal programs; and he’d cap initial prices for “specialty drugs” to treat serious illnesses.
Biden would limit annual out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare enrollees, a change Trump sought unsuccessfully in Congress. And Biden also wants to allow importation of prescription drugs, subject to safety checks.
Biden plans to immediately reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain as legal residents. He’s also planning an Inauguration Day executive order rolling back Trump’s ban on certain Muslim immigrants and has pledged to rescind Trump’s limits on asylum slots.
Additionally, Biden will send Congress, out of the gate, a complex immigration bill offering an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.
As a candidate, Biden called Trump’s hard-line policies on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and promised to “undo the damage” while maintaining border enforcement. Notably, the outline of Biden’s immigration bill doesn’t deal much, if at all, with border enforcement. But his opening manoeuvr sets a flank with plenty of room to negotiate with Republicans.
Biden also pledged to end the Trump’s “public charge rule,” which would deny visas or permanent residency to people who use public-aid programs. Biden has called for a 100-day freeze on deportations while considering long-term policies. Still, Biden would eventually restore an Obama-era policy of prioritizing removal of immigrants who have come to the U.S. illegally and have been convicted of crimes or pose a national security threat. Biden has said he would halt all funding for construction of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.
FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Biden’s establishment credentials are most starkly different from Trump in the area of foreign policy. Biden mocked Trump’s “America First” brand as “America alone” and promises to restore a more traditional post-World War II order.
He supports a strategy of fighting extremist militants abroad with U.S. special forces and airstrikes instead of planeloads of U.S. troops. That’s a break from his support earlier in his political career for more sweeping U.S. military interventions, most notably the 2003 Iraq invasion. Biden has since called his Iraq vote in the Senate a mistake.
He was careful as a candidate never to rule out the use of force, but now leans directly into diplomacy to try to achieve solutions through alliances and global institutions.
Biden calls for increasing the Navy’s presence in the Asia-Pacific and strengthening alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia. He joins Trump in wanting to end the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but thinks the U.S. should keep a small force in place to counter militant violence.
Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken is Biden’s longest-serving foreign policy adviser and holds essentially the same worldview.
Both are strong supporters of NATO. Biden and Blinken warn that Moscow is chipping away at the foundation of Western democracy by trying to weaken NATO, divide the European Union and undermine the U.S. electoral system.
Biden believes Trump’s abandonment of bilateral and international treaties such as the Iran nuclear deal have led other nations to doubt Washington’s word. Biden wants to invite all democratic nations to a summit during his first year to discuss how to fight corruption, thwart authoritarianism and support human rights.
He claims “ironclad” support for Israel but wants to curb annexation and has backed a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. He says he’d keep the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem after Trump moved it from Tel Aviv.
On North Korea, Biden criticized Trump for engaging directly with Kim Jong Un, saying it gave legitimacy to the authoritarian leader without curbing his nuclear program.
Biden also wants to see the U.S. close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Obama pushed the same and never got it done.
Beyond immediately rejoining the Paris climate agreement, Biden has proposed a $2 trillion push to slow global warming by throttling back the burning of fossil fuels, aiming to make the nation’s power plants, vehicles, mass transport systems and buildings more fuel efficient and less dependent on oil, gas and coal.
Parts of his program could be included in the second sweeping legislative package Biden plans after the initial emergency pandemic legislation.
Biden says his administration would ban new permits for oil and gas production on federal lands, though he says he does not support a fracking ban.
Biden’s public health and environmental platform also calls for reversing the Trump administration’s slowdown of enforcement against polluters, which in several categories has fallen to the lowest point in decades. That would include establishing a climate and environmental justice division within the Justice Department. Biden says he would support climate lawsuits targeting fossil fuel-related industries.
Biden has proposed tripling the federal Title I program for low-income public schools, with a requirement that schools provide competitive pay and benefits to teachers. He wants to ban federal money for for-profit charter schools and provide new dollars to public charters only if they serve needy students. He opposes voucher programs, in which public money is used to pay for private-school education. He also wants to restore federal rules, rolled back under Trump, that denied federal money to for-profit colleges that left students with heavy debts and unable to find jobs.
Biden supports making two years of community college free, with public four-year colleges free for families with incomes below $125,000. His proposed student loan overhaul would not require repayment for people who make less than $25,000 a year and would limit payments to 5 per cent of discretionary income for others.
Among the measures in his COVID-19 response plan, Biden calls for extending current freezes on student loan payments and debt accrual.
Long term, Biden proposes a $70 billion increase in funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and other schools that serve underrepresented students.
Biden supports abortion rights and has said he would nominate federal judges who back the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. He’s also said he’d support a federal statute legalizing abortion if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority strikes down Roe.
Biden committed to rescinding Trump’s family planning rule, which prompted many clinics to leave the federal Title X program providing birth control and medical care for low-income women.
In a personal reversal, Biden now supports repeal of the Hyde Amendment, opening the way for federal programs, including his prospective public option, to pay for abortions.
Biden’s proposals would expand benefits, raise taxes for upper-income people and add some years of solvency.
He would revamp Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment by linking it to an inflation index tied more directly to older Americans’ expenses. He would increase minimum benefits for lower-income retirees, addressing financial hardship among the elderly.
Biden wants to raise Social Security taxes by applying the payroll tax to earnings above $400,000. The 12.4 per cent tax, split between an employee and employer, now applies only to the first $137,700 of a worker’s wages. The tax increase would pay for Biden’s proposed benefit expansions and extend the life of program’s trust fund by five years, to 2040, according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute.
Biden led efforts as a senator to establish the background check system now in use when people buy guns from a federal licensed dealer. He also helped pass a 10-year ban on a group of semi-automatic guns, or “assault weapons,” during the Clinton presidency.
Biden has promised to seek another ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Owners would have to register existing assault weapons with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He would also support a program to buy back assault weapons.
Biden supports legislation restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one and would require background checks for all gun sales with limited exceptions, such as gifts between family members. Biden would also support prohibiting all online sales of firearms, ammunition, kits and gun parts.
As with his public option plan for health insurance, it’s not clear how Biden will prioritize gun legislation, and the prospects of getting major changes through the Senate are slim, at best.
Biden says he’d work with Congress to improve health services for women, the military’s fastest-growing subgroup, such as by placing at least one full-time women’s primary care physician at each Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical centre.
He promises to provide $300 million to better understand the impact of traumatic brain injury and toxic exposures, hire more VA staff to cut down on office wait times for veterans at risk of suicide and continue the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to stem homelessness.
Biden has joined a growing bipartisan embrace of “fair trade” abroad — a twist on decades of “free trade” talk as Republican and Democratic administrations alike expanded international trade. That, and some of his policy pitches, can make Biden seem almost protectionist, but he’s well shy of Trump’s approach.
Biden, like Trump, accuses China of violating international trade rules by subsidizing its companies and stealing U.S. intellectual property. Still, Biden doesn’t think Trump’s tariffs worked. He wants to join with allies to form a bulwark against Beijing.
Biden wants to juice U.S. manufacturing with $400 billion of federal government purchases (including pandemic supplies) from domestic companies over a four-year period. He wants $300 billion for U.S. technology firms’ research and development. Biden says the new domestic spending must come before any new international trade deals.
He pledges tough negotiations with China, the world’s other economic superpower, on trade and intellectual property matters. China, like the U.S., is not yet a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade agreement that Biden advocated for when he was vice-president.
Biden won’t escape Trump’s shadow completely, given the many investigations and potential legal exposures facing the outgoing president. Biden said as a candidate that he wouldn’t pardon Trump or his associates and that he’d leave federal investigations up to “an independent Justice Department.” Notably, some of Trump’s legal exposure comes from state cases in New York. Biden will have no authority over any of those matters.
Associated Press writers Will Weissert, Kevin Freking, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ben Fox, Deb Riechmann, Collin Binkley and Hope Yen contributed to this report.
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