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What Biden Wants

For an alleged centrist, the Democrat has surprisingly left-wing plans.

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

Joe Biden could become the most progressive president of the United States since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That might sound odd after he was declared a “centrist” and the “establishment” candidate in the Democratic primaries.

The former vice president isn’t as left-wing as some of his former rivals, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He doesn’t want to break up big tech, defund the police, forgive all student loans or nationalize health insurance.

But the whole Democratic Party has moved to the left and Biden has moved with it. He has involved Democrats and allies from the left to the center, including environmental and minority rights groups, gun control advocates and trade unions, in drafting his program. Left-wing congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped write his climate policy. Biden incorporated Senator Cory Booker’s proposal to tie federal funding to looser building codes in his housing plan.

The result is that Biden has buy-in from across the Democratic coalition, which — provided the party wins not just the presidency but the Senate in November — means his plans stand a good chance of becoming reality.

Child care

  • Tax credit paying up to half the cost of child care, or up to $8,000 per child per year, for families making under $125,000.
  • Tax credit for employers to build on-site child care centers.
  • Twelve weeks of paid family leave.

Spending on child care has risen 2,000 percent in the last forty years. American families commonly spend between $15,000 and $26,000 per year to have someone take care of their kids. This is completely unaffordable to low-income families — yet many mothers don’t have a choice. One in four return to work within two weeks of giving birth, because they can’t afford not to. America is the only rich country that does not give mothers and fathers paid time off from work.

Climate and energy

  • $2 trillion in investments in the green economy over four years, up from $1.7 trillion in Biden’s original plan, to be spent on infrastructure, subsidies for electric vehicles, universal broadband and zero-emissions public transportation in every big American city.
  • Mandate that all electricity production by 2035 be carbon-free (biomass, hydro, nuclear, solar, wind).


  • Free nationwide testing.
  • Hire 100,000 Americans to conduct contact tracing.
  • Hazard pay for health-care and other essential workers.

Economy and labor

  • $700 billion in investments in manufacturing and technology, including $300 billion in artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, 5G and lightweight materials, deliberately spread across the United States to revitalize left-behind communities (including of color).
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • Make it easier for workers to unionize and bargain with employers.
  • Define “gig economy” workers as employees instead of contractors.
  • Ban noncompete clauses, no-poaching agreements and mandatory arbitration clauses.
  • Liberalize occupational licensing requirements.
  • Require companies that receive government contracts to pay their workers $15 per hour, paid leave and fair overtime.


  • Triple spending on primary education.
  • Universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4 year-olds.
  • Make public university free for families with incomes under $125,000.
  • Limit federal student loan repayments to 5 percent of discretionary incomes over $25,000.

Tuition and fees at colleges and universities have risen twice as fast as wages. Half of students take on loans to try for a higher-education degree. Outstanding debts typically range from $20,000 to $25,000, requiring monthly payments of between $200 and $300. Many graduates of elite universities owe much more. Total student debt is $1.4 trillion, up 116 percent in a decade. One in three graduates aged 25 to 39 struggle financially. The same percentage says the financial cost of their degree outweighs the benefits.

Foreign policy

  • Return to the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization.
  • Return to the Iran nuclear deal if Iran complies with its terms.
  • Extend the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
  • Reduce the mission in Afghanistan to counterterrorism.
  • End American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Health care

  • Introduce a Medicare-like public health insurance option, which would be free for the almost five million Americans who qualify for Medicare under Obamacare but who live in Republican-controlled states that didn’t expand Medicare.
  • Expand tax credits for private insurance plans, so no family pays more than 8.5 percent of their income on health insurance.
  • Ban insurers from overcharging patients for out-of-network care.
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
  • Ban above-inflation price increases for medicines in Medicare and the Biden public option.
  • Allow consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries.
  • Pay the health insurance of Americans who have lost their job as a result of COVID-19.
  • Restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Health-care costs have risen twice as fast as wages in the last decade. Americans pay twice as much for insurance and medical services as Europeans, but they are just as healthy (or unhealthy). The average cost of an employer-sponsored health insurance plan was $20,576 last year, up from $13,375 a decade earlier. The percentage of workers with a deductible of $2,000 or more went up from 7 to 28 percent in the same period. Even Americans on Medicare, which is supposed to provide free health care to seniors, pay an average $5,460 out of pocket every year. The average American on Medicaid pays over half that amount. Almost two in three bankruptcies are related to medical expenses and nearly 140 million Americans — close to half the population — report “medical financial hardship”.


  • Provide housing vouchers to all families that qualify.
  • Prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters receiving federal housing benefits.
  • Condition federal funding on the repeal of discriminatory local housing regulations.
  • Tax credits for first-time buyers and low-income renters.

Housing has become unaffordable in most American cities, which is where the jobs are. Before the pandemic, home prices were rising faster than wages in eight out of ten metro areas. Young Americans are one-third less likely to own a home at this point in their lives than previous generations, delaying their wealth accumulation and possibly family formation. Among young black Americans, homeownership has fallen to its lowest rate in more than sixty years. Americans of all ages are less likely to move, which has contributed to a decline in social mobility and an increase in regional inequality. It might also have something to do with the fall in entrepreneurship. An estimated 11 million Americans qualify for housing vouchers under the law but don’t receive any, because funding is capped annually by Congress.


  • End family separation at the border.
  • End the Muslim travel ban.
  • End prolonged detention for asylum seekers and immigrants.
  • Increase refugee admissions.
  • Allow immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children (so-called Dreamers) to remain in the country.
  • Streamline visas for temporary workers.
  • Increase visas for permanent, work-based immigration.


  • Decriminalize the use of cannabis and expunge all cannabis use convictions.
  • End incarceration for drug offenses.
  • End cash bail and stop incarcerating people who are unable to pay fines and fees.
  • End private prisons.
  • Revoke mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
  • Invest in community-oriented policing.
  • Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and institute universal background checks for gun purchases.

The United States locks up more people per capita than any other nation. 10 million Americans are jailed every year. Half a million are unable to post bail and remained incarcerated until their trial. 2.3 million are imprisoned. Nearly half of all inmates in federal prisons were convicted of drug offenses. American police is aggressive and militarized by Western standards. American police officers are three times more likely to kill than their Canadian counterparts, and many times more likely than their European colleagues, but they are also more likely to be killed as a result of the proliferation of firearms in civilian hands. America has more guns than people. It has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada and nearly sixteen times as many as Germany. States with more guns have more gun deaths. States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths.

Racial equity

  • 40 percent of green economy investments will be spent in disadvantaged communities.
  • 10 percent of R&D spending will go to black- and brown-owned small businesses.
  • Make education at historically black colleges and universities free for families making under $125,000.


  • Increase corporate tax from 21 to 28 percent, raising $1+ trillion over a decade.
  • Apply the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax to incomes over $400,000.
  • Tax capital gains as ordinary income.