POLITICS

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden Teams Come Up With Progressive Policy Recommendations

The “unity” task forces have come up with more than 100 pages of policies that would push presidential candidate Biden slightly to the left.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has agreed to consider a host of progressive policy positions, including a ban on for-profit charter schools, the creation of a postal banking system, mandating net-zero emissions for all buildings by 2030, and launching a federally backed corps of unarmed first responders.

The more than 100-page document offered by a group of prominent labor leaders, elected officials and academics aligned with either Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, is the culmination of a monthslong negotiation in which Sanders and his allies sought to push the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee’s platform to the left.

The report comes from six joint policy task forces on the economy, education, criminal justice, immigration, climate change and health care. Each task force had eight members, five of whom were picked by Biden’s team and three of whom were tapped by Sanders’ team. 

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.

A jobs guarantee has not been socialized in American discourse enough for the campaign to be receptive to it. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA

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.

Task force members included prominent progressive leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who co-wrote the Green New Deal, labor leaders like SEIU union head Mary Kay Henry, and academics like Stephanie Kelton, the leading economist behind modern monetary theory, the idea that governments can never run out of money and that deficit spending on major domestic programs would lead to economic growth. Biden’s team appointed experts including veterans of the Obama administration, like former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

Biden did not emphasize policy during the Democratic primary, releasing fewer plans than other candidates and instead honing in on a fight for “the soul of the nation” against Trump. Meanwhile, his campaign has kept a broad group of outside advisers to consult on his platform. 

Many of the task force’s recommendations are Democratic boilerplate positions, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices.

Biden has taken a significant lead in public polling against President Donald Trump, and the GOP is likely to attack Biden if he adopts some of the proposed stances. But many of the potential concessions to the left involve the type of policy detail the average voter is unlikely to care about, and Biden’s positions on the most polarizing left-wing positions ― including abolishing ICE, defunding police forces and adopting a single-payer health care system ― will not change. 

As an alternative to defunding the police, the criminal justice task force proposed the creation of a federally funded corps of first responders, including “social workers, EMTs, and trained mental health professionals” who could respond to nonviolent emergencies and free up police officers to focus on violent crime. 

The Sanders team was hoping these policy recommendations could also influence the kind of personnel Biden would bring to the White House and his Cabinet, but task force members did not indicate there would be a formal continuation of the groups.