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6 Takeaways From the Biden-Sanders Joint Task Force Proposals


The new policy recommendations for Joseph R. Biden Jr., crafted jointly by allies of Mr. Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are the clearest sign yet that the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are trying to unite far more than they did in 2016.

But the ideas put forth on Wednesday are also indications that progressives succeeded in pushing some proposals leftward, influencing Mr. Biden’s policy platform as he prepares to accept his party’s nomination for president next month.

The task force’s recommendations stop far short of Mr. Sanders’s signature health care policy initiative, a single-payer “Medicare for all” system that would enroll all Americans in a generous government-run health plan.

Instead, the task force supports a government-run insurance option that would be offered to all Americans on a sliding scale according to income — and automatically provided to low-income Americans free.

A so-called public option has always been a part of Mr. Biden’s health plan, but the recommendations specify new details, such as a requirement that primary care visits and certain prescription medicines be offered without any out-of-pocket spending by patients. Similar to Mr. Biden’s most recent health proposal, this would allow Americans to become eligible for Medicare coverage at 60 instead of the current threshold, 65. Medicare benefits would be expanded to cover treatment for dental care, vision and hearing loss.

The task force also recommends special insurance options for people during the coronavirus pandemic. For those who lost coverage because they became unemployed, the task force suggests that the federal government pay the full cost of continuing that coverage under the federal law known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA. People without previous coverage would be allowed to buy a new plan with no deductible, at a price determined by their income, or an existing Obamacare plan.

Mr. Biden’s views on criminal justice had already shifted drastically since he helped pass the 1994 crime bill, and the task force’s recommendations reinforce that transformation. They call for eliminating private prisons, ending cash bail and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, steps that both candidates supported in the primary; eliminating private prisons, in particular, was something Mr. Sanders championed early.

The task force also suggested a federal standard for police departments’ use of force, a national database of police officers who commit misconduct and an end to sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.

It did not, however, bridge a notable gap between the Biden and Sanders platforms. The task force called for decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it at the federal level for medical use, but for letting the states decide whether to legalize it for recreational use. That is the position Mr. Biden held in the primary, in contrast to Mr. Sanders, who supports full legalization.

The climate change task force, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, declared rising planet-warming emissions a nationwide “emergency.” It also directly tied the effort to reduce fossil fuels to a need to address racial injustices that have led low-income communities to bear a disproportionate level of air and water pollution.

The recommendations make no mention of the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and other supporters of Mr. Sanders have championed.

There is also no mention of a national ban on fracking, which Mr. Biden has avoided calling for, despite pressure from young climate activists. But there are other signs that progressives on the task force were able to push Mr. Biden to the left.

Specifically, critics of Mr. Biden’s plan to invest $1.7 trillion in order to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050 had complained that his platform included few details on how it would achieve that faraway goal. The recommendations set a number of specific near-term benchmarks that Democrats would promise to reach. They include moving all electric power off fossil fuels by 2035; achieving carbon-neutrality in all new buildings by 2030; and installing 500 million solar panels in the next five years.

The economics recommendations to Mr. Biden include more expansive and expensive plans than he has embraced in the campaign. They are heavily focus on addressing racial inequality and on getting Americans back to work in the wake of the recession caused by the pandemic.

The task force suggested that Mr. Biden consider several plans that his more liberal rivals had championed during the Democratic primaries, though at times it stopped short of endorsing them.

The document commits to tripling federal aid for low-income schools and to increasing funding for students with disabilities. School desegregation by race and class has emerged in recent years as a major concern for progressives. The task force commits to addressing the problem through strategies like busing and magnet schools, but does not mention a specific amount of funding. (Mr. Biden’s opposition to federally mandated busing was a major campaign issue last year, but he has never opposed voluntary busing.)

While many supporters of Mr. Sanders were excited by his promise of universal free tuition at public four-year colleges, the task force stops short of that commitment. It says instead that public universities should be free for families earning under $125,000 per year, and that community colleges should be free for all.

The report indicated that the immigration agenda of a Biden administration would focus on undoing President Trump’s restrictionist policies, which have been anathema to Democrats.

The task force recommended that Mr. Biden work with Congress to maintain protections for about 700,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation, a program that Mr. Trump is trying to end. It also recommended ending Mr. Trump’s travel restrictions against 13 countries, most of which have substantial Muslim populations.

The report said Mr. Biden should end a program that forced more than 60,000 migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases wound through immigration courts, and should stop diverting asylum seekers to Central American countries. Mr. Biden should increase the number of refugees who can be allowed into the United States to 125,000 per year, from Mr. Trump’s level of 18,000, and raise that cap over time, the committee said. And it called for ending the national emergency declaration that Mr. Trump has used to siphon billions of dollars in Pentagon funding for a wall along the southwestern border.

The task force stopped short of calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished, as some in the party have called for. Instead, the report recommends increasing oversight of immigration enforcement and border agencies with the creation of an ombudsman and a panel. There was also no suggestion that unauthorized border crossings should be decriminalized and made a civil offense, a change Mr. Sanders has supported, although the committee recommended prioritizing prosecutions of human traffickers.

Sydney Ember contributed reporting.


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