WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden offered voters an agenda that tried to balance his moderate inclinations and the clamor among his progressive base to implement big change.
The former vice president promised to "build back better" with large, sweeping programs and reforms designed to charge the economy and address problems like health care and racial inequality.
When he is sworn into office in January, he will have to grapple with the reality left by a split decision on Election Day — that while he won, his party failed to make enough gains in the Senate to ensure that he will have friendly cooperation in Congress to enact his proposals.
Two Senate races in Georgia are likely to determine whether Republicans continue to control the chamber, but even if Democrats secure a sweep, the party will have to maneuver its narrow majority, which will empower moderate members to tamp down the liberal agenda.
If Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky remains in charge, he can exercise broad influence. Everything that goes through the Senate — legislation, budgets, Cabinet posts, judges, Supreme Court nominations, the debt ceiling (remember the debt ceiling?) — will need GOP approval.
But Biden's transition team, which has already been working for months to prepare, will have his campaign plan to use as a starting point.
Here's Biden's dream agenda:
The most pressing concern for Biden will be the pandemic. While a vaccine is likely to have begun limited distribution, it will not be 100 percent effective, and Biden has called for more action.
He plans to make someone to coordinate the government's response, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of his first appointments. Biden has called for enacting a national mask mandate, leveraging the Defense Production Act to dramatically ramp up production of Covid-19 tests and personal protective equipment, creating a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to mobilize at least 100,000 unemployed Americans to fight the virus and appropriating another $25 billion for vaccine research and distribution to make sure everyone has access to a vaccine.
Jobs and the economy
Biden has also prioritized tackling the pandemic-induced economic crisis. Biden wants another massive stimulus package, including more unemployment assistance and direct stimulus. In the longer term, he wants bills like the union-backed Protecting the Right to Organize Act, as well as government assistance to help revitalize manufacturing and new infrastructure investments.
Don't call it the Green New Deal, but Biden's "build back better" plan includes many of its controversial climate priorities to reorient the economy around green jobs and clean energy. Biden detailed plans to switch the U.S. to 100 percent clean energy and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Biden wants to use government regulation to punish polluters who harm poor communities, who often lack the political power to keep hazardous sites out of their backyards. He has called for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.
Many progressives have called for "democracy reform" — a buzzy phrase that includes changing voting systems and campaign finance laws and re-establishing parts of the voting rights laws that have been struck down. Biden has endorsed all of those changes and has expressed openness to more radical ideas, like expanding the courts and making the District of Columbia a state, which would likely give Democrats two seats in the Senate.
Biden was a staunch defender of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, during the primary season, arguing that the law, which passed while he was vice president, should not be thrown out but improved upon. He resisted calls within his party to throw the entire system out and enact universal health care. He has backed a "public option" to compete with private insurers in the marketplaces, which he recently said would make it "Bidencare." His campaign has estimated that it would cost $750 billion, and independent analysts project that his proposals would lower health care premiums.
Biden has proposed a series of tax increases totaling about $4 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, to finance his various new programs. Those include raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and restoring the 39.6 percent individual rate for the highest incomes. Biden repeatedly promised during the campaign not to raise taxes on any American making less than $400,000.
Biden signaled that he would slow deportations, which was a rare distancing from former President Barack Obama. Biden also wants to unravel President Donald Trump's restrictive policies on refugees and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by executive action. He has also pledged to propose legislation in his first 100 days that would create a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally while securing the country's borders in a humane manner.
Biden called for a $1.3 trillion investment in rebuilding U.S. infrastructure over the next decade, including it as part of his plan to move the country to a clean energy economy. He proposed repairing highways, bridges and roads while stabilizing the highway trust fund and creating new jobs that he says would include protections for workers and unions.
Biden said racial justice would be integral to his agenda. He wants all policy decisions to consider the need to address historic racial disparities. He also proposed new and revamped government programs to help minority-owned businesses and more funding for historically Black colleges and universities. He backed another overhaul of the criminal justice system, including focusing the system more on rehabilitation instead of punishment.
Biden has a long track record in foreign policy after having served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as the international crisis fixer during the Obama administration. He wants to end "forever wars," but he said he would keep some troops in Afghanistan to fight groups like the Islamic State terrorist organization. Biden said he wants to strengthen multilateral alliances such as NATO. He has hinted that he would take a less hostile stance toward China, especially over trade policy after Trump's trade wars, but he would likely be chillier toward Russia and North Korea than Trump.