Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Wednesday rolled out the policy recommendations reached by its joint task forces with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of the Democratic National Convention, which is slated for next month.
The 110-page document has been submitted to the Democratic National Committee’s Platform Committee and will also be reviewed personally by Biden ahead of the nominating convention, the former vice president’s campaign announced.The task force recommendations don’t include the kind of wide-scale systemic upheaval that won Sanders such a fervent following in his two presidential campaigns — while also provoking an outcry from moderate Democrats and Republicans alike. A single-payer health care system such as “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal overhauling environmental policy, and doing away with Immigration and Customs Enforcement are not among the policy proposals.But while the recommendations hew more closely to priorities laid out by Biden during the primary, like expanding the Affordable Care Act through a public option, they also include ambitious timelines for reaching certain environmental benchmarks, such as eliminating carbon pollution from power plants and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for new buildings.
The recommendations also include a slew of criminal justice reforms, including to law enforcement and policing practices, an issue that has come to the fore in recent weeks after the death of George Floyd in police custody in May.
Each group offered Biden a unified platform and a list of policies and possible executive orders he could consider should he be elected president. Biden welcomed the ideas in a statement, calling them a “bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country.”Biden has shown openness to making some adjustments to his policy platform in past months, including making public colleges and universities tuition-free for students from families with incomes less than $125,000 a year, eliminating student debt for those making less than $125,000 a year and lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60 — positions that were adopted by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 general election.These task force recommendations promote progressive policies, like a proposal to expand automatic enrollment in a public health insurance option for low-income Americans in health emergencies, but are a far cry from the kinds of ideas Sanders’ negotiators came to the table with.“Though the end result is not what I or my supporters would have written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction,” Sanders told NBC about the final result.Sanders’ camp attempted to prioritize a federal jobs guarantee during task force negotiations, according to labor leader Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, who was tapped to co-lead the economy task force.
Sanders ran on a federal jobs guarantee program, an idea that was endorsed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would aim to create millions of public sector health care, child care, teaching and infrastructure jobs, ensuring a job to any American in search of employment.The group spent significant time debating the idea, Nelson said, despite noting it would limit time to discuss other policy proposals like ensuring workers the right to strike and banning stock buybacks — two ideas that ultimately did not make it into the policy recommendations. A contentious proposal, the jobs guarantee faced significant pushback from the Biden-appointed negotiators.“A jobs guarantee has not been socialized in American discourse enough for the campaign to be receptive to it,” Nelson said. “I know as a union leader, you can’t negotiate a provision in a contract that no one understands. “
In the end, the Sanders camp won some language in the recommendation that alluded to a jobs guarantee program.“In order to ensure that everyone who wants to work has a pathway to employment, the government must enact measures to create jobs and jobs programs like those effectively used during the New Deal, and ensure such programs are inclusive for women and people of color,” the report reads. “These programs will focus on lifting wages, expanding public services, strengthening bonds with communities, protecting workers, and building our public, physical, and human infrastructure so the United States is more resilient to future pandemics, climate change-fueled catastrophes, and economic downturns.”The cost of some of Sanders’ boldest proposals remained a major obstacle in negotiations in multiple task groups. The health care task group, co-led by Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, failed to reach consensus on proposals from Sanders’ team to expand Medicare coverage to those under the age of 60, and explicitly cover dental, hearing and vision.But Biden’s advisers signaled an openness toward looking into those gaps in coverage, according to task force member Dr. Donald Berwick, who used to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the Obama administration, and as a strong single-payer advocate, was one of Sanders’ picks for the task force. The recommendations say the party should be committed to “finding financially sustainable policies to modernize and strengthen Medicare and fill coverage voids.”The task force also began writing the outline of an executive order to set goals on ending unequal health outcomes in Black, brown and Native communities.Berwick noted that the coronavirus pandemic, which has left tens of millions unemployed — and uninsured or underinsured as a result — has reinforced the idea of the government as the most secure guarantor of health care.“I do suspect the groundwork is laid,” Berwick said.
In a statement, Mr. Biden commended the task forces’ work and expressed gratitude toward Mr. Sanders “for working together to unite our party, and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come.”
Mr. Sanders, for his part, acknowledged the progress his supporters had made — but also nodded to some lasting disappointment.
“Though the end result is not what I or my supporters would have written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country,” he said.
The extensive recommendations concluded nearly two months of sometimes tense deliberations by the task forces, which Mr. Biden formed as part of his effort to bridge the division among the Democratic establishment and progressives who are unenthusiastic about his candidacy and his longtime message of incremental change.
The task forces included core Biden supporters including former Secretary of State John Kerry and Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general under President Barack Obama, as well as top Sanders allies like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Mr. Kerry and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez were co-chairs of the climate change task force, which was hailed from the outset as an important development that signified in part the Biden campaign’s commitment to winning over younger and more liberal voters.
The formation of joint policy working groups had been a crucial compromise from the Biden campaign that helped ease the way for Mr. Sanders to withdraw from the presidential race in early April. But when Mr. Biden announced the task forces in mid-May — on health care, immigration, criminal justice reform, education, climate change and the economy — it was unclear whether they would produce policy results or simply the more symbolic appearance of political harmony.
To facilitate Mr. Biden’s approval of the recommendations, the co-chairs of the committees worked with the campaign to seek agreement on the language, several people involved with the task forces said.
“The campaign accepted these recommendations, which I think is a huge achievement,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a co-chair of the health care task force.
She added, “Most of the people on the task force were probably even to the left of where we ended up because the Biden campaign had to essentially approve everything as we went along and agree to everything as we went along.”
And though the set of recommendations from her task force “doesn’t go as far as we all wanted on the Sanders side,” Ms. Jayapal said, she still viewed it as “a real step forward.”
The document recommends that Biden commit to eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, and zeroing out net greenhouse gas emissions across the entire economy by 2050. The task forces call for funding universal pre-kindergarten across the country, expanding Social Security, raising the national minimum wage and eliminating cash bail, among many other long-sought progressive stances.
“I don’t think you could find any issue that we couldn’t find an agreeable resolution on, that everybody in the room said, ‘That will work,’ ” said Jared Bernstein, Biden’s former economic adviser in the Obama administration and a task force member. “I don’t think you could find anything in there that he won’t want to take a very close look at.”
“I commend the Task Forces for their service and helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday. “And I am deeply grateful to Senator Sanders for working together to unite our party, and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come.”
Biden’s campaign has yet to publicly commit to doing anything other than “reviewing” the recommendations.
If he adopts them, the recommendations would shift Biden to the left, but they would not completely transform the platform he’s been running on for more than a year.
“We did not have any impressions that we were going to turn Joe Biden into Bernie Sanders. That was not going to happen. That did not happen,” said Faiz Shakir, who managed Sanders’ presidential campaign and helped coordinate the task forces.
It’s now on Biden to take this agenda to the people and move forward. All in all, I’m very happy to see Biden and Sanders team come up with a great platform. Let’s keep up the momentum and get a progressive agenda pushed forward to get this country back on track. Click here to donate and get involved with Biden’s campaign.