Joe Biden will begin rolling out his plan on Thursday to repair the U.S. economy as he seeks to improve his standing with voters on one of the few issues where he lags President Donald Trump.
Biden will frame the economic argument for the remainder of his campaign with a speech near his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, a place that’s been synonymous with the blue-collar workers who helped Trump win the state in 2016. He will unveil policies intended to foster manufacturing and encourage innovation, adopting some ideas from his progressive primary rivals but avoiding the big-ticket proposals like the Green New Deal.
The former vice president’s plan is divided into four areas, the first of which he’ll address in more detail on Thursday: a push to buy American and create manufacturing jobs, costing at least $700 billion; building infrastructure and clean energy, advancing racial equity; and modernizing the “caring” economy such as child-care and elder-care workers and domestic aides. His campaign said he will follow Thursday’s speech with detailed policy proposals before the Democratic National Convention, which begins Aug. 17.
On Thursday, he’ll unveil plans for $400 billion in additional federal government purchases of products made by American workers over his first term — based on a proposal that Senator Elizabeth Warren, a former opponent, offered during the primaries — as well as $300 billion for federally funded research and development. In all, the Biden campaign estimates that its proposals on manufacturing and buying American will create 5 million jobs. It did not offer a plan for how to pay for those measures.
With Americans enduring a recession because of the coronavirus pandemic, Biden is homing in on the economy, the only policy area where a slim majority of voters favor Trump’s approach. In a recent New York Times-Siena College poll of registered voters in six critical electoral states, 55% preferred Trump on the economy while 39% preferred Biden.
Now the Democratic nominee, Biden has shifted to a general-election footing where he also needs to attract Republicans weary of the Trump administration and independents to win in November.
There was small progress toward recovery in the jobs numbers released Thursday. Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. declined last week by more than projected, easing concerns of a renewed downturn in the labor market after several large states reported an increase in coronavirus cases.
“I think there is going to be a broad-based view not just among Democrats but among independents and even some Republicans that this plan and its substance is matched to the moment,” said Jake Sullivan, a top policy aide to Biden. “It is focused on trying to drive job creation fast so that we don’t have scarring, so that we don’t have people unemployed long term, so that we don’t have businesses dying.”
Aware that any positions Biden takes are parsed for outreach to the left, advisers argued he gets to truly progressive results, just at his own pace.
“Biden wants to get to the same place that many to his left want to get to but he firmly believes that it will take an incremental path to get there and that you can’t leapfrog the political reality that he has come to know in many decades in politics,” said Jared Bernstein, who is advising the campaign after serving as Biden’s chief economic adviser in the vice president’s office.
“So his destination on many key issues, particularly on the economy and health care, is very similar to the further left but his path to get there is going to be more incremental,” Bernstein added.
The plan for the U.S. government to buy American-made products would cost $100 billion a year over four years, and would purchase things like clean vehicles and clean energy; materials to prepare for future public health crises such as ventilators and masks; materials for infrastructure projects such as steel, concrete and equipment; and telecommunications. Warren had proposed a $150 billion a year for a decade to be spent on procurement of clean energy.
Biden would also work with other countries to renegotiate the Government Procurement Agreement at the World Trade Organization to ensure the U.S. and its allies can spend taxpayer dollars on growing investment in their own countries.
On trade, a senior Biden adviser, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity said the candidate would also study current tariffs as well as potential trade agreements he wants to negotiate. His advisers declined to comment directly on what would happen to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump abandoned in 2017, or existing tariffs under a Biden administration.
Trump has made buy-American policies and protecting the U.S. steel and aluminum industry a centerpiece of his administration but some domestic manufacturers have complained his actions didn’t go far enough.
The $300 billion R&D plan would encompass all 50 states and would increase direct federal programs such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a health innovation entity that Biden had previously proposed. He would also direct money to support innovative small businesses and workforce development programs.
Each idea may seem small but “the beauty of these plans is in the totality” of everything that Biden will be proposing on the economy in the coming weeks, Bernstein said.
Biden’s advisers said the plan, once fully revealed, would be ambitious.
“This will be the largest mobilization of public investments in procurement, infrastructure and R&D since World War II — and that’s just a part of the plan,” Sullivan said.
The senior Biden official said the campaign wasn’t ready to detail where the money for these programs would come from. Recurring programs would be financed with additional tax proposals but some measures might need to be treated as stimulus to help the economy recover and would be dependent upon economic conditions when Biden takes office, the official said.
Most of the more progressive ideas, like the Green New Deal and other large jobs programs that also hearken back to Franklin Roosevelt’s policies in the Great Depression, would likely be left behind at the beginning in favor of a more step-by-step approach, the Biden campaign says.
Steph Sterling, vice president for advocacy and policy at the Roosevelt Institute, and others on the left say they would like to see Biden contemplate a jobs guarantee or other measures that would be more in the vein of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
A Biden adviser said such policies are not being seriously considered, though the candidate has proposed creating a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps that would employ 100,000 people.
Biden offered some parameters in April.
“Look at the institutional changes we can make without us becoming a socialist country or any of that malarkey that we can make to provide the opportunities to change the institutional drawbacks.”
If Biden wins the presidency, he will be walking into a far different economy than he would have faced before the pandemic.
“If Biden is president he will be up against this just incredibly, incredibly weak economy,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, and a chief economist at the U.S. Labor Department in the Obama administration. “Regardless of what’s going on with COVID, whether there’s a vaccine or widespread mask-wearing or not, it will be a hugely depressed economy.”
Even with improvement in jobs and consumer spending that’s been better than analysts expected, the U.S. economy remains in a deep hole, and most forecasters expect only a gradual recovery. Unemployment, at 11.1% in June, is higher than any time in the 80 years before the pandemic. Black and Latino unemployment rates are even higher.
Since mid-June, economic gains have slowed as virus cases accelerated in a variety of states, leading local officials to pause or reverse re-openings. And if lawmakers allow the expiration of extra unemployment benefits and small-business aid in coming weeks, jobs and consumption could take a further hit.