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Thursday, October 22, 2020
HomeOpinionJoe Biden: An Incrementalist Version of Bernie Sanders

Joe Biden: An Incrementalist Version of Bernie Sanders

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee and former vice president, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC This Week on April 5, 2020.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee and former vice president, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC This Week on April 5, 2020.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee and former vice president, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC This Week on April 5, 2020.

Hardly anybody noticed because the nation has been focused on protests about police misbehavior, but Joe Biden officially clinched the Democratic nomination this past week.

And he’s now comfortably ahead in the political betting markets as well as public polling. If Biden wins in November, what does that mean for the nation’s economic policy?

According to folks on the left, a Biden presidency means bigger government and more statism.

For instance, opining for The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie applauds Biden’s leftist agenda.

…if the goal is to move America to the left…then a Biden candidacy…represents an opportunity. …If Biden goes on to win the White House, there’s real space for the pro-Sanders left to work its will on policy. …It can fulfill some of its goals under the cover of Biden’s moderation, from raising the minimum wage nationally to pushing the American health care system closer to single-payer. …Biden…is a creature of the party. He doesn’t buck the mainstream, he accommodates it. He doesn’t reject the center, he tries to claim it. …the center of the Democratic Party as far left as it’s been since before Ronald Reagan, then Biden is likely to hew to that center, not challenge it.

His colleague at The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg, is similarly enthused about the prospects for bigger government under a Biden Administration.

Biden’s proposals go far beyond his call for a $15 federal minimum wage — a demand some saw as radical when Sanders pushed it four years ago. While it’s illegal for companies to fire employees for trying to organize a union, the penalties are toothless. Biden proposes to make those penalties bite and to hold executives personally liable. …should Biden become president, progressives have the opportunity to make generational gains. …To try to unite the party around him, he’s making serious progressive commitments. …he’s moving leftward. Biden recently came out for tuition-free college for students whose families earn less than $125,000. He endorsed Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy plan…His climate plan already went beyond any of Barack Obama’s initiatives, and he’s pledged to make it even more robust.

According to (supposedly) neutral analysts, a Biden presidency means bigger government and more statism. In an article for Newsweek, Steve Friess discusses Biden’s shift to the left.

Being stuck running for the presidency from the basement of his home in Wilmington, Delaware, had given the former vice president a lot of time to think, he told them, and he wanted bigger ideas. Go forth, he urged his financial brain trust, and bring back the boldest, most ambitious proposals they’d ever dreamed of to reshape the U.S. economy… Biden began issuing a raft of new proposals that move his positions closer to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, with a promise to unveil an even more transformative economic plan this summer. …It’s a yes to adding $200 a month to Social Security benefits and lowering the qualifying age for Medicare from 65 to 60. Yes to trillions in new spending, yes to new regulations on banks and industry, yes to devil-may-care deficits. …the leader he most often invokes—in interviews, in public addresses, on his podcast—is no longer Barack Obama but Franklin Delano Roosevelt. …Biden has already made a series of significant leftward policy shifts since effectively sewing up the nomination in March.

Perry Bacon, in a piece for fivethirtyeight, analyzes Biden’s statist agenda.

…if Biden is elected in November, the left may get a presidency it likes after all…if American politics is moving left, expect Biden to do the same. …Biden’s long record in public office suggests that he is fairly flexible on policy — shifting his positions to whatever is in the mainstream of the Democratic Party at a given moment. …Biden is likely to be a fairly liberal president, no matter how moderate he sounded in the primaries. …Biden’s 2020 primary platform…adopted fairly liberal policies…more liberal than his pre-campaign record suggested. The Democratic Party is more liberal now than it was when Bill Clinton took office, or even when Obama was inaugurated, and Biden’s platform reflects that shift. …Biden and his advisers are now…rolling out more liberal policy plans, speaking in increasingly populist terms and joining forces with the most progressive voices in the party. …“Joe Biden is running on the most progressive platform of any Democratic nominee in recent history. But given the pandemic, he has to look at the New Deal and Great Society traditions in the Democratic Party and go bigger,” said Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a left-wing group aligned with Ocasio-Cortez.

Writing for The Washington Post, Sean Sullivan documents Biden’s leftward drift.

Joe Biden sought to appeal to liberal supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday with a pair of new proposals to expand access to health care and curtail student loan debt. Biden proposed lowering the eligibility age for Medicare coverage from 65 to 60. He also came out in favor of forgiving student loan debt for people who attended public colleges and universities and some private schools and make up to $125,000 a year. …In another peace offering to liberals, Biden proposed paying for his student debt plan by repealing a provision in the recent coronavirus legislation that Congress passed and President Trump enacted. “That tax cut overwhelmingly benefits the richest Americans and is unnecessary for addressing the current COVID-19 economic relief efforts,” he wrote… Biden endorsed a bankruptcy plan put forth by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another rival who ran to his left.

And, according to more market-friendly sources, a Biden presidency means bigger government and more statism. The Wall Street Journal editorialized about Biden’s leftist agenda.

Already Medicare is scheduled to be insolvent by 2026. …In 1970, life expectancy in the U.S. was 70.8. Now it’s about eight years longer. By lowering the age of eligibility instead, Mr. Biden would begin shifting Medicare’s focus from seniors to everybody else. Don’t worry about the funding, he insists, since the extra costs would be “financed out of general revenues.” …Mr. Biden’s new left turn on student loans is equally sharp. …Cancel all federal undergraduate tuition debt for many borrowers who went to public schools, including four-year universities. This forgiveness would be given to anyone who earns $125,000 a year or less. …How much would it cost? There’s no explanation.

Jeff Jacoby analyzed Biden in a column for The Boston Globe.

Biden…is running on a platform far more progressive — i.e., far less moderate — than any Democratic presidential nominee in history. …on issue after issue, Biden has veered sharply from Obama’s path. On health insurance, for example, Obama rejected a public option as part of the Affordable Care Act and repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining private coverage. But Biden favors a public option open to everyone… Biden supports government-funded health care even for unauthorized immigrants, something Obama never came close to proposing. …No Democratic presidential nominee ever endorsed anything like the radical Green New Deal, with its price tag in the tens of trillions of dollars and its goal of eliminating the use of all fossil fuels. But Biden does. No Democratic nominee ever called for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. But Biden does. …Sanders may not end up on the November ballot, but it will unmistakably reflect his influence. For he and his band of progressives have pushed their party to the left with such success that even the “moderate” in the race would be the most liberal Democrat ever nominated for president.

Here’s some of what Peter Suderman wrote for Reason.

Biden is a moderate compared to Sanders, but he is notably to the left of previous Democratic standard-bearers. …Biden has proposed a significant expansion of the Affordable Care Act that his campaign estimates would cost $750 billion over a decade… Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion climate plan that is similar in scope to many candidates on his left and a $750 billion education plan… He favors an assault weapons ban and other gun control measures, a national $15 minimum wage, and a raft of subsidies, loans, and other government-granted nudges designed to promote rural economies. Has proposed $3.4 trillion worth of tax hikes—more than double what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed when she ran in 2016. …Biden’s leftward drift is thus the party’s leftward shift…, a big-government liberal, a candidate whose current incarnation was shaped and informed by progressive politics, if not wholly captured by them.

The Tax Foundation examined the former Vice President’s tax plan and the results are not encouraging.

Former Vice President Joe Biden would enact a number of policies that would raise taxes, including individual income taxes and payroll taxes, on high-income individuals with income above $400,000. …According to the Tax Foundation’s General Equilibrium Model, the Biden tax plan would reduce GDP by 1.51 percent over the long term. …The plan would shrink the capital stock by 3.23 percent and reduce the overall wage rate by 0.98 percent, leading to 585,000 fewer full-time equivalent jobs. …On a dynamic basis, we estimate that Biden’s tax plan would raise about 15 percent less revenue than on a conventional basis over the next decade. …That is because the relatively smaller economy would shrink the tax base for payroll, individual income, and business income taxes. …The plan would lead to lower after-tax income for all income levels.

Here’s a table summarizing the findings.

So what does all this mean?

At the risk of oversimplifying, Biden unquestionably would move tax policy to the left. He actually said higher taxes are patriotic — even though he engages in aggressive tax avoidance — and the same thing would happen on regulatory issues.

His spending agenda is terrible, though it’s worth noting that Democrat presidents usually don’t spend as much as Republicans, with the admirable exception of Reagan.

And, to be fair, there’s no way he could be as bad on trade as Trump.

Let’s close by looking at some hard data. Back in January, I sifted through the vote ratings prepared by the National Taxpayers Union and the Club for Growth and showed that Biden was not a Bill Clinton-style moderate.

I went back to those same sources an put together this comparison of Biden and some other well-known Democrats (scores on a 0-100 scale, with zero being statism and 100 being libertarian).

In both measures, he’s worse than Crazy Bernie!

Moreover, a lifetime average of zero from the Club for Growth is rather horrifying. His average from the National Taxpayers Union isn’t quite so bad, but the trend is in the wrong direction. Biden’s post-2000 average was less than 10, while his score for the preceding years averaged more than 23.

That being said, my two cents on this topic is that Biden is a statist, but not overly ideological.

His support for bigger government is largely a strategy of catering to the various interest groups that dominate the Democratic Party.

The good news is that he’s an incrementalist and won’t aggressively push for a horrifying FDR-style agenda if he gets to the White House.

The bad news is that he will probably allow Nancy Pelosi and other statist ideologues to dictate that kind of agenda if he wins the presidency.

Written by
Contributing Economist

Daniel J. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy. Mitchell’s articles can be found in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, and the Washington Times. He is the author of "The Flat Tax: Freedom, Fairness, Jobs, and Growth," and co-author of "Global Tax Revolution: The Rise of Tax Competition and the Battle to Defend It."

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