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.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered in this moment to celebrate the culinary union of barbecue (a.k.a. barbeque, bar-b-que, bar-b-q, and BBQ) and Independence Day (a.k.a. July 4 or “the Fourth of July”). This moment is a culmination of the Founding Fathers’ need for the right to party.
Early in our republic, Independence Day was often the biggest community festival of the year. Barbecue, which had developed as a fusion cuisine by the late 1600s, became the ultimate party food during the later period when Fourth of July celebrations gained civic and social momentum. The two have been linked up ever since.
Barbecue, of course, was a thing long before the British colonists ever thought about declaring independence from their sovereign. I’m not talking about hamburgers on a kettle grill. I’m talking about “old school” barbecue, where a whole animal carcass was skewered with wooden poles and cooked over a trench filled with burning coals from hardwood trees. Pre-20th century, African Americans typically did the labor-intensive cooking. They used the piercing poles to flip the carcasses periodically and seasoned the meat by basting it with a sauce primarily made of vinegar and red pepper. Cows, pigs, sheep, and even opossum were the most common.
In the South, the ideal setting for a barbecue was a rural open space with beautiful trees and a spring nearby. In between plates of food, people would play games, get their drink on, and shoot guns. By the late 1700s, barbecue was already a cooking process (verb), a descriptor for a kind of cooked meat (adjective), and a form of entertainment (noun).
Barbecue’s backstory is rooted in the culinary traditions of indigenous people. Historian Joseph Haynes has shown that British settlers in the Virginia colony melded their meat-cooking techniques with the meat-smoking techniques of the Powhatans. Barbecue, as we understand it today, was born.
In the Northern colonies, British cooks didn’t quickly embrace the barbecue their counterparts developed in Virginia. Northern cooks often stuck to what they knew: the “ox roast.” This festive tradition in England dates to the Middle Ages. With this method, the oxen carcass was pierced with a metal rod and cooked evenly before a fire, with a team of cooks slowly rotating the spit from each side.
Though some July 4th celebrations featured an ox roast, southern-style barbecue gradually became the favorite meal. Independence Day celebrations shared common elements: a military procession, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, speeches by local politicians, toasts to local and federal dignitaries, music, fireworks, and a free meal for the masses—usually barbecue.
These events were usually hosted by prominent white men who covered all of the costs. These men secured the land where the event was held, procured the meat, and hired the workers. In many cases, though, enslaved African Americans did the work of clearing the land, preparing the food and serving it to guests. Typically, whites ate first, and the African Americans present ate afterward.
For some whites, what distinguished a barbecue from a bunch of adequately cooked meat seemed to be the involvement of African Americans. In 1919, John Bell Keeble, while serving as dean of Vanderbilt Law School, told a national convention of architects in Nashville: “Some things have always been typical of a Tennessee welcome….A barbecue was one of them. I do not know whether altogether we have lost the art or not. So many of the old negro barbecue cooks are dead that a barbecue is a rather difficult matter to bring up to the old-fashioned standard.”
After the Civil War, Southern whites who supported the Confederacy harbored sore feelings about being on the losing side. Independence Day celebrations in the South dropped off because they reminded white rebels of their defeat. But African Americans in the region continued to celebrate Independence Day with barbecue and fried chicken. In 1901, the Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported that the Fourth of July “is here, as in most places in the south, given over to the negroes, who celebrate [it] in truly royal fashion.”
By the 1920s, Southern whites were back to hosting civic celebrations of Independence Day. But the traditional gargantuan Independence Day festivities downsized in the 20th century in two ways. First, due to higher meat prices and having to pay actual wages for labor, communities shifted to smaller events—and they started charging people to attend in order to recoup their costs. Second, the trench method fell out of fashion as cooks shifted to using brick-lined pits and cooking smaller cuts of meat. By the 1920s, more people were eating barbecue in restaurants or building barbecue pits in their back yards, paving the way for the kettle grills that would explode in popularity during the 1950s.
There’s a lot more to the story of barbecue, much of it hotly contested: African methods of cooking meat outdoors and whether they did or didn’t influence American cooks; the various types of sauce; regional differences in the American South, and more. Thanks to technological innovation, barbecue can now happen almost anywhere, and cooks feel free to throw anything on the grill. My own Fourth of July plate is usually piled high with pork spareribs, hot link sausages, chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, an ear of grilled corn, potato salad, and a nice, ripe wedge of watermelon for dessert.
For me, it’s about celebrating with friends and family—and reflecting on what it means to “celebrate” a nation that still falls short of its promise. Perhaps having diverse people enjoying barbecue together in its glorious forms, even kosher and “vegan,” can be a first step to a more perfect union. When it comes to barbecue and the Fourth of July, what pitmasters and politicians have beautifully joined together, let no one pull asunder!
Adrian Miller is a James Beard Award-winning food writer who lives in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas.
This was written for Zócalo Public Square.