2020 Presidential Candidate Series — Vice President Joe Biden

Update 379: 2020 Presidential Candidate Series; 
The Economic Agenda of Vice President Joe Biden 

Former Vice President Joe Biden announced his candidacy on April 25 after months of speculation on whether or not he would enter the 2020 race. In the month since his entry in the Democratic primary, Biden has topped the polls, averaging about 10 points ahead of the other presidential frontrunners. In the first 24 hours of his campaign, Biden raised $6.3 million, surpassing all other Democratic primary candidates. 

Though Biden is generally viewed as a moderate, he has paved his own path over the years of then cutting-edge progressive platforms, from women’s rights to climate change to labor policy.  Biden’s current economic policy platform is still a work in progress, so to speak. Biden has yet to call out Wall Street in the Warren or Bernie fashion. With Harris and Buttigieg, Biden has received the largest donations from big bank CEOs.  Biden is also advocating for a worker-friendly labor policy. More on his labor-focused signature and other announced economic policy plans and analysis below.  

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More Leverage to Workers

As a politician who has been focused on labor issues for years, Biden’s pro-worker platform is comprehensive and coherent. On the day of his candidacy announcement, the former Vice President called for outlawing non-compete clauses for low-wage workers. His first stump speech was in Pittsburgh, surrounded by Teamsters, steelworkers, auto manufacturers, and teachers — all populations of workers hit hard by anti-union laws and declining union participation. The platform aims to increase protections for workers, strengthen worker benefits, and raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. 

The plan would create a suite of new worker protections. It would:

  • ban non-compete agreements, which decrease the leverage of workers by preventing them from entering into professions seen as “competing” directly with an employer,
  • ensure that workers can discuss their pay without fear of retaliation,
  • strengthen measures against wage theft, 
  • ban the misclassification of low-wage workers as managers to avoid paying them overtime. 

Biden also advocates for ending unnecessary occupational licensing requirements that discourage entry into certain fields and protecting Davis-Bacon standards, which protect contractors and subcontractors working on federally funded or assisted contracts. His plan also establishes a minimum benefit so that all workers who put in 30 years of work are guaranteed a retirement benefit that is at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level.

Biden has been a supporter of organized labor long before he announced his candidacy. As a Delaware senator, he was an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act of 2003, which gives workers the right to form a union if a majority elects a union to represent them. As president, Biden would enact the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a bill introduced to the House this Congress that makes efforts by corporations to prevent unionization illegal and increases fines on employers who break labor laws to $50,000 or more.

Honorable Mentions

  • Repeal of TCJA:  Biden has been vocal about repealing the 2017 Trump tax cuts, announcing at least ten times between April and June of this year that he intends to do away with the law as his “first step”, should he be elected. His tax reform proposal would also restore the top marginal income tax rate of 39.6 percent, from the current 37 percent, and tax capital gains as ordinary income for those earning more than $1 million. Biden plans to use additional revenue for his other main policy proposals like reducing regional inequality and saving social security.
  • Social Security:  Biden’s plan would increase Social Security Trust Fund solvency by changing the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) cap levels. He would reform Social Security to cover those benefiting from their spouses’ pensions and Social Security, and eliminate penalties for public-sector workers who switch jobs. Finally, Biden would protect the program against privatization efforts.
  • Rural America:  Biden is focused on winning back the 20 percent of rural America that Democrats have lost. Biden plans to support agricultural production by doubling the beginning farmer microloan program to $100,000, investing $20 billion in rural broadband, doubling funding for community health centers, and increasing funding for rural hospitals and medical residencies so that aspiring doctors are drawn to the rural areas. 

Healthcare Ambiguity; Student Loan Promise 

With his headquarters and hometown in union-heavy Pennsylvania and decades of labor advocacy, the former Vice President should be poised to capture the union vote. What could make or break his labor support, however, is his healthcare platform. As Obama’s Vice President during the Affordable Care Act push, Biden’s platform focuses on “protecting and building on” the ACA, which differs from the progressive “healthcare for all” push. 

While some unions have worked hard for their single-payer benefits, many labor representatives say that healthcare has come to dominate bargaining, taking effort away from other significant contract battles like wages and overtime. As Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, put it, “our message is: get it off the table.”

Moderate Democratic primary voters have been skeptical of universal healthcare, instead favoring a more incremental path that has room for Biden’s “protect and expand the ACA” message. 

Biden has already called for free four-year college and some form of debt reduction, but walked that announcement back to two years of free community college and more K-12 education funding. A full education plan, his campaign says, is forthcoming. 

In a Democratic presidential primary season where candidates have started out competing on policy grounds with bold rather than incremental economic reforms, Biden is carving a unique lane for himself here. Only time will tell.

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