Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign on Wednesday released a raft of policy recommendations crafted by allies of the former vice president and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, underscoring the party’s unity less than four months from November’s general election.
The 110-page document is the product of weeks of negotiations between six- and eight-person “Unity Task Forces” appointed by Biden and Sanders, the former vice president’s longest-lasting rival in the Democratic presidential primary. The task forces drafted a joint approach to climate change, criminal justice, the economy, education, health care and immigration.
The recommendations are largely based on the more moderate positions Biden advocated during the primary, rather than adopting major progressive policy proposals such as “Medicare for All” health care coverage, a Green New Deal, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and defunding police departments.
But they showcase Biden’s willingness to embrace some progressive aims – including an accelerated timeline to reach net-zero carbon emissions, a recommendation of a task force that was co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
“Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully & substantively improved Biden’s positions.”
The document released Wednesday does not yet comprise the Democratic Party’s platform. The recommendations were sent directly to Biden and to the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee, which will draft the party’s platform.
In a statement, Biden commended the task forces “for their service and helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country. And I am deeply grateful to Sen. Sanders for working together to unite our party, and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come.”
“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 and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country,” Sanders said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice.”
The recommendations emphasize the three crises that ripped through the nation in the months following the early-spring conclusion of the Democratic primary: the coronavirus pandemic, soaring unemployment and protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
Here’s a look at what the task forces recommended on each of the six topics to which they were assigned:
The climate task force, co-chaired by Ocasio-Cortez and former Secretary of State John Kerry, recommended the most ambitious, concrete plans of the task forces, specifically providing steps to arrive at net-zero emissions on a quicker timeline than Biden had previously proposed on the campaign trail. Largely, the plan fits within the framework of Biden’s already-introduced climate crisis plan while providing more specifics on how to achieve a largely similar ultimate goal.
The group said it would set a “bold, national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” for all new buildings by 2030 in order to eventually move to a 100% clean building sector, whereas Biden’s previous plan proposed setting a target of halving the carbon footprint of the US building stock by 2035.
There is no mention of the Green New Deal, legislation laid out by Ocasio-Cortez, by name.
The task force recommended a commitment to eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 and an expansion of solar and wind energy systems. It goes further than Biden’s plans in providing more specific solutions to averting a climate crisis, including installing 500 million solar panels and 60,000 wind turbines that are manufactured within the United States.
It recommended rejoining the Paris climate agreement on day one of a potential Biden administration, a promise Biden has made frequently on the campaign trail, and tacks clean energy to job creation and union membership, another key component of Biden’s policy plan.
The task force incorporated many of the proposals outlined in congressional Democrats’ policing bill, including establishing national use of force standards; banning police chokeholds; establishing a national database to track law enforcement officers who have abused their power; and reviving the use of pattern-or-practice investigations.
It also calls for the creation of a task force that would provide recommendations “for tackling discrimination and other problems in our justice system that result from arrest and charging decisions.”
“Democrats believe we need to overhaul the criminal justice system from top to bottom. Police brutality is a stain on the soul of our nation. It is unacceptable that millions of people in our country have good reason to fear they may lose their lives in a routine traffic stop, or while standing on a street corner, or while playing with a toy in a public park,” the task force’s members wrote. “It is unacceptable that Black parents must have ‘the talk’ with their children, to try to protect them from the very police officers who are supposed to be sworn to protect and serve them.”
There is no mention of defunding the police, an effort promoted by some liberal activists; Biden himself has called for a stronger investment in community policing and more funding for police overall. The task force says Democrats would “condition federal funds on true community-centered engagement across the country.” They would also condition funds on police training to include “de-escalation, crisis intervention, implicit bias, and peer intervention.”
The group stuck with Biden’s approach to marijuana, saying the drug should be decriminalized but that legalization of marijuana for recreational use should be left up to the states.
The task force called for reversing Trump administration guidance that advises federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible in criminal cases and for rescinding the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy. It also called for a return to Obama-era limits on transferring weapons of war to law enforcement.
The unity task force focused on the US economy said it supports expanding the unemployment insurance system to cover more workers, extending significant aid to state and local governments to address budget shortfalls, making significant and immediate grants and loans to small businesses to help keep their doors open and imposing rigorous oversight on big corporations seeking financial assistance during the pandemic.
The task force backed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers and family units, universal child care for 3- and 4-year-olds, revising the tax code to provide larger refundable tax credits that would benefit low- and middle-income families, increasing funding for food assistance programs and increasing access to the internet, among other proposals.
It called for transportation and infrastructure investment that would include launching “our country’s second great railroad revolution” through high-speed rail and repairing roads, bridges and airports.
The task force recommended an increase in affordable housing and “supercharge investment in the Housing Trust Fund to greatly expand the number of affordable housing units on the market, reduce home prices, and create jobs,” and said Democrats will enact a new Homeowner and Renter Bill of Rights “to protect families from abusive lenders and landlords.”
The task force said Democrats will “take decisive action to level the playing field for people of color, working families, women, and others who have been left on the sidelines.” It supports congressional efforts to ensure affordable and trustworthy banking services for low- and middle-income families, and expanding access to credit “by creating a public credit reporting agency to provide a non-discriminatory credit reporting alternative to the private agencies.”
The task force supported making Social Security “more progressive” by “meaningfully increasing minimum benefit payments, increasing benefits for long-duration beneficiaries, and protecting surviving spouses from benefit cuts.”
The task force put forward pillars of an education plan that includes guaranteed universal pre-K education, a tripling of Title I funding, capping and forgiving certain student loan debt, and tuition-free college for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. The proposal also calls for tuition-free community college for all students, including those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.
The recommendations cite a $23 billion funding gap between predominantly White and non-White school districts and say Democrats should “incentivize states to adopt progressive funding formulas that direct resources to the schools that need it most.”
A mainstay of Democratic platforms past, the proposal also calls for a ban on federal funding of for-profit private charter schools and opposes private school vouchers. It also recommends doubling the maximum Pell Grant award for low-income students.
The task force recommended up to $10,000 in immediate student debt relief to help families during the coronavirus pandemic. It also called for a pause in monthly billing on federal student loans for people earning less than $25,000 per year and a cap on payments for those earning more than that amount.
And the coalition lambasted the Trump administration for what it called “dangerous and short-sighted policies to permit teachers to bring firearms into the classroom.”
The health care recommendations track closely with Biden’s call for building on the Affordable Care Act by providing a public option as opposed to the progressive embrace of Medicare for All. They call for lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60, a commitment Biden made this spring as an overture to Sanders and his supporters.
The task force focused heavily on how Democrats would strengthen health care in the wake of the pandemic, including providing access to free or low-cost coverage through a public option and automatically enrolling Americans already enrolled in social safety net programs into the public option through the duration of the health crisis. They promoted the creation of 600,000 new health care jobs with at least a $15 minimum wage while calling for expanded contact tracing and free testing and vaccines.
The task force condemned the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, writing, “Make no mistake: President Trump’s abject failure to respond forcefully and capably to the COVID-19 pandemic – his failure to lead – makes him responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.”
The task force’s immigration recommendations would undo President Donald Trump’s executive actions, including rescinding the travel ban, ending the prosecution of asylum seekers and stopping policies that require those asylum seekers to apply from other countries.
The recommendations stop short of progressives’ calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but insist that ICE, along with Customs and Border Protection, must “abide by our values and professional, evidence-based standards and are held accountable for any inappropriate, unlawful, or inhumane treatment.”
But they do call for deportations to be halted for 100 days while a “full-scale” audit of ICE and CBP practices is conducted. They also call for an end to the use of privately owned detention facilities and to requirements that local law enforcement play a role in immigration enforcement.
Additionally, they spell out in stark terms Democrats’ break from Trump’s hard-line approach to immigrants and asylum seekers.
“Democrats will end the Trump Administration’s shameful efforts to close the door to the world’s most vulnerable refugees. It’s not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. Admitting refugees helps preserve the stability of America’s partners abroad, strengthens our hand in getting other countries to uphold their obligations, grows our economy, and enriches our society,” the recommendations say.
The group said family unity would be a “guiding principle” for immigration policy and that detention would be a “last resort” – particularly for children.