On a visit to an aluminium foundry in wisconsin last week, a sombre joe biden mourned the grim milestone of americas 200,000 covid-19 deaths before quickly pivoting to his economic agenda.
You matter, the democratic presidential nominee told the audience at the plant in manitowoc, near the lake michigan shore. i dont want to punish anybody, but instead of just rewarding wealth in this country, its about time we start to reward work.
While the former us vice-president campaigned in the democratic primary as a moderate, he has laid out a much more progressive economic platform that absorbs much of the spirit and some of the ideas put forward by rivals bernie sanders and elizabeth warren, who challenged him for the nomination.
At the heart of it are tax increases for high-income households and corporations to reduce inequality and help fund a massive dose of public investment worth $3.9tn during his first term, according to a moodys analytics estimate.
Mr biden has vowed to pour federal dollars into healthcare, education, infrastructure and clean energy, while also embracing a rise in the minimum wage and measures to boost unionisation. that is on top of any immediate stimulus including extra funding for jobless benefits needed to help the us economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Not only is mr bidens strategy the antithesis of president donald trumps plan to further cut taxes and continue deregulating the economy: it also reflects the democratic partys leftward shift on economic issues in recent years, a transformation that began in the aftermath of the financial crisis and accelerated during mr trumps presidency.
In the wake of the coronavirus recession, which has hit low-income communities much harder than wealthier parts of america, mr biden has become even more committed to a bolder tax-and-spend agenda, according to more than a dozen interviews ranging from campaign advisers to economists consulted by his team.
The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on a set of embedded inequalities, racial inequities and policy shortfalls that have beset our economy and the people in it for a very long time, said jared bernstein, a member of mr bidens transition advisory board and his chief economist in the obama administration.
He added: simply getting back to the old normal in terms of the economy and the kind of economic policy architecture, that sets the bar far too low.
While mr biden is still not in favour of staunchly progressive proposals such as a universal income or medicare-for-all which would effectively scrap americas employer-based private healthcare system the former vice-president has likened his plans to revive and reshape the us economy to franklin delano roosevelts new deal after the great depression.
I think the scale of the agenda meets the moment with respect to the economic recession we are in, and the collision of all these crises: we have the public health crisis, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a crisis of racial injustice, said stef feldman, policy director for the biden campaign.
Politically, mr bidens economic plans have exposed him to mr trumps attempts to label him a socialist, but they could also stoke enthusiasm among the democratic partys liberal base. leftwing critics of past democratic administrations, including those run by bill clinton and barack obama, say their economic policies focused excessively on fiscal discipline and trade liberalisation, and were too deferential to business and wall street.
There is no question thatbidens plan and his platform are more progressive than pretty much any democratic standard bearer in the last 30 or 40 years, said michael linden, executive director of groundwork collaborative, a left-leaning economic think-tank.
Even those who you might think of as the old guard, who are more traditional, willconcede that inequality is a problem, will concede that the gains to capital have far outstripped gains to labour. but there is still a debate between how far and how fast and how much to push, he added.
As the campaign has unfolded, mr biden has brought several liberal economists and policy experts into his orbit as advisers particularly heather boushey, whose body of research has centred around tackling inequality.
The advisory board for his transition team includes felicia wong, the president of the roosevelt institute, who in january wrote a report calling for a new progressivism to replace a neoliberalism that had failed.
Some policies, such as a pledge to invest $1.7tn in green energy, drew heavily from a unity task force created with mr sanders this year, which included several figures from the vermont senators side. mr biden has also adopted a bankruptcy reform plan championed by ms warren.
Mr biden is still seeking plenty of moderate and more traditional left-of-centre opinions on the economy, from the likes of janet yellen, the former federal reserve chair, to gene sperling, a veteran of the obama and clinton administrations, and larry summers, the former treasury secretary.
While assembling such a broad tent could paper over cracks in party unity, it is not without risks. when ted kaufman, the former delaware senator and a co-chair of mr bidens transition team, told the wall street journal last month that mr trumps disregard for fiscal discipline meant the pantry is going to be bare in terms of spending options, there was a backlash from the left.
To adopt [republican] deficit-hawking now, when millions of lives are at stake, is utterly irresponsible, alexandria ocasio-cortez, the congresswoman from new york, wrote on twitter.
Ms feldman said that while mr bidens long-term spending and investment plans would be funded by higher taxation, the immediate stimulus including a boost to jobless benefits would be financed by adding to the deficit, though it was too soon to put a number on it.
Things are still in flux. there will need to be almost certainly some level of stimulus in the early days of the next administration given the economic recession were in as a result of trumps failure to control the virus, ms feldman said.
Sabeel rahman of demos action, a left-leaning political organisation, said there seemed to be a genuine recognition of the severity of the crisis within the biden camp, but its commitment to a progressive agenda would be tested after the election.
Where the rubber is really gonna hit the road on a lot of this is going to be around the appointments that theyre going to make [and] the priorities that he sets out in terms of what a recovery package looks like, mr rahman said. among the top contenders to lead economic agencies under mr biden are sarah bloom raskin, the former deputy treasury secretary, and lael brainard, a fed governor.
Heidi shierholz, chief economist at the economic policy institute in washington, said mr biden still faced an uphill battle to pass progressive legislation in the face of opposition from wall street and business. those forces are less strong than they have been but i think they still have a lot of pull, she said.
Mr bidens economic plans are already being attacked as too radical and ineffective by the white house and congressional republicans. the last thing struggling american businesses need right now is a massive tax hike, said chuck grassley, the iowa senator.
But william spriggs, the chief economist at the afl-cio, the largest union federation in america, dismissed that criticism. trump gave away all the money to the rich, as far as the eyes could see. so it isnt raising taxes on the wealthy its returning to sanity on what kind of tax level you need to run the united states of america, he said.
On individual income taxes mr biden is proposing a return to the top rates in place during the obama administration, but his plan goes beyond that, by increasing capital gains and payroll taxes on high-income households. on the corporate side, he wants to increase the income tax rate to 28 per cent, a level proposed by mr obama, but also wants to add a minimum tax on profits and a penalty for offshoring.
Last week, mr bidens plan received a boost when moodys found that over the next four years, if accompanied by complete democratic control of congress, it would lead to faster growth and higher employment, compared with a victory for mr trump paired with an entirely republican legislature.
Some observers say the differences between mr bidens economic plans and those of the partys previous nominees and administrations are overstated.
Hes very much in keeping with the kind of pragmatic sensible approach to economic issues that clinton and obama engaged in obviously adjusted to the circumstances of the day, robert rubin, the former treasury secretary under mr clinton, said, adding that mr bidens plan was fundamentally on the right track given that america badly needs additional public investment.
Among mr bidens economic advisers, mr bernstein said there hadnt been much of a split so far, despite their origins in different strands of the democratic party. its more driven by what the policy agenda is: we need to build a much more resilient inclusive economy on the other side of this crisis, he added.
And there is clear unity in faulting mr trump for being a phoney defender of middle and lower-income households, and out of touch with their struggles. the president talks all the time about how great the economy is. well, i dont know what yall think, but where i come from and a lot of places in this state, its not so great, mr biden said in wisconsin last week.
Photographs: bloomberg; getty images; ap; reuters