Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump have each provided very different visions for the future of the United States, to say the least. Trump brands himself as a champion of economic interests and of conservative American culture, favoring deregulation of industries and the expansion of private markets while taking a more traditional view on social issues. On the other hand, Biden promotes himself as an agent of change, bringing America into the future with clean energy, better social safety nets, and more rights guaranteed to minority groups.
Still, understanding where each candidate stands on the multitude of issues at stake in the 2020 election is tricky, especially with so much information available at our fingertips. Unraveling who stands where on what issues involves going down the rabbit hole of hyperlinks and policy proposals, usually leading to, well, more hyperlinks and policy proposals.
It’s also difficult to predict who will do what if elected to office, since no candidate can ever enact their campaign promises alone — not without Congressional backing and with some serious compromising.
However, each candidate’s platform gives us a benchmark for where they stand and what we might reasonably expect from them. Below are five key issues which represent the competing trajectories of each candidate and his political party. While not comprehensive (for more on LGBTQ+ rights, check out “Casting a Vote Is More Than Ticking a Box — It Could Mean Life or Death”), the list offers a look at what we might expect from four years of Biden —- or four more of Trump.
As in 2016, Trump’s plan for healthcare is to repeal and place the Affordable Care Act (ACA); however, he has yet to offer any substantive replacement. While in recent months Trump has issued a number of executive orders on healthcare, experts agree they offer few specifics and no plans for how his broad visions might be implemented. According to NPR, the price of premiums has been reduced during Trump’s time in office, and more plans are available — though they do not have to cover the 10 Essential Health Benefits that are required by the ACA. He also supports spending caps and work requirements for Medicaid, as well as restricting access to healthcare for immigrants.
Contrary to the “socialist” picture Trump and his allies have tried to create, Biden does not support Medicare for All. He does, however, propose expanding the existing ACA by adding a public health option (basically, a government-run health insurance agency), and by expanding the premium subsidies on exchanges to include those making 400% of the federal poverty level. He also proposes to expand eligibility for both Medicaid and Medicare. With the latter, he proposes to lower the eligibility age from 65 to 60 and create a public health option similar to the one already in effect for Medicaid.
Both candidates favor lowering drug prices and greater transparency. They also both support ending “surprise billing,” although according to NPR’s reporting, neither offers clear details on how to end this practice.
Trump has largely left the Covid response to state governors, although he has directed billions in funding toward the accelerated vaccine-development initiative Operation Warp Speed. In last Thursday’s presidential debate, he declared that the U.S. had “rounded the corner” on the coronavirus and has shifted the White House response to focus on reopening the country.
Biden proposes a federal-directed response to the coronavirus that does include a nationwide contract tracing program and a mask-mandate on all federal property. He has also proposed to use the Defense Production Act in order to increase production of PPE and other protective gear, to offer full federal subsidies for COBRA — which provides extended benefits to unemployed workers — and to invest 25 billion in vaccine development and research.
Taxes and the Economy
If elected to a second term, Trump will likely stick to a conservative economic agenda of tax reduction and regulation (see “Environmental Policy” below), expanding on his 2017 tax legislation which increased the budget deficit while lowering taxes. The campaign has yet to release a comprehensive tax plan amid the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Kiplinger’s reports that “we’re left with a handful of vague ideas and bullet-point descriptions about various tax cuts that the president would like to pursue if he’s re-elected.” Some possible actions could be a middle-class tax reduction, a payroll tax cut, opportunity zones (see “Racial Justice and Equal Rights,” below), or even another round of stimulus checks.
Biden’s two “big ticket” items, according to the Associated Press, are a 2-trillion dollar initiative to eliminate carbon pollution by 2035 and an overhaul of the 2017 tax legislation, raising corporate income tax rates and taxes on individuals making over $400,000 annually. The funds generated — an estimated 4 trillion over ten years — would go toward healthcare, education, and infrastructure development. He has also proposed raising the minimum wage from $11 to $15 an hour.
In his four years in office, Trump has rolled back many Obama-era environmental regulations on emissions, water pollution, and non-renewable energy extraction and has removed protections on environmental and wildlife preservation. According to a report by the New York Times, his administration has completed or progressed with nearly 100 roll-backs. He has also vowed to take the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, a multinational pact to address climate change (the withdrawal is expected to formally happen sometime this year). If elected to a second term, Trump is likely to continue the roll-back of environmental regulations, expanding the fossil fuel industry and opening public land, such as Alaska’s National Arctic Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for federal drilling.
In addition to his big-ticket item to eliminate carbon pollution by 2035, Biden has also proposed an initiative to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. He favors investments in clean energy and restrictions on fossil-fuels that would ban new permits for drilling on offshore and public lands. He has outlined plans to protect Indigenous and national lands and monuments, including the establishment of permanent protections for ANWR. Biden also favors stricter regulations on pollutants that would help protect communities of color. As reported by National Geographic, “to limit the concentration of polluting industries in communities of color, he would require agencies to take into account cumulative pollutant levels before issuing or renewing permits under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.” He would also reinstate the United States in the Paris Accord.
Racial Justice and Equal Rights
Trump frequently claims, as he did in Thursday’s debate, that no president has done more for the Black community than he has — “with the possible exception of Lincoln.” And it’s true that, before the shutdown, employment among the Black community was at near-historic lows. PolitiFact notes that the declines began under Obama, “suggesting that [he] could also claim credit.” General unemployment rates have soared during the pandemic, although Reuters reports that Black unemployment rates — at 15.4% — remain higher than those experienced by other racial groups during the recovery. The gap between white and Black unemployment stood at 5.3%, the highest since 2015.
Trump has touted the creation of Opportunity Zones — an anti-poverty initiative to draw investors into low-income neighborhoods — as part of the 2017 tax bill. However, Politico reports that the program lacks tracking and that it’s financial impact remains uncertain; however, they also note that the zones have benefitted middle-class neighborhoods already on the rise and have received criticism for tax incentives that fund “luxury apartments, hotels, and office towers”
Trump has consistently denied systemic racism, calling for tougher “law and order.” However, he also did sign the First Step Act, legislating moderate reductions in prison sentences for non-violent offenders in the federal (not state) systems.
Biden has faced criticism for his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill. Critics allege that it helped promote mass incarcerations, while Biden and other supporters point to its more popular provisions, such as the Violence Against Women Act (the actual impact of the law is somewhat complicated, as explained by Vox). As a candidate, however, he has promised to address racial disparities within the justice system, such as repealing mandatory minimums, offering states grants to promote programs that lower incarceration, and using federal funds to help states end the practice of jailing persons unable to pay fees or fines.
With “Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America”, he has also proposed to invest in African-American businesses, secure voting rights, and expand access to housing — in part by restoring Obama-era policies which had been rescinded by Trump in July in an appeal to white, suburban voters.
Despite broad appeals to the betterment of our country, the candidates present radically different versions of what “better” might be. For Trump, the path forward includes further deregulation, the expansion of private markets, a return to the pre-Covid status quo and the preservation of socio-economic hierarchies that favor the white and wealthy. The vision Biden offers is more egalitarian, and includes federally-supported initiatives to bolster or rebuild our country’s systems. They represent the divergent paths that our country will take, which we must collectively choose.