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Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $700 billion economic plan to bolster American manufacturing, jobs, and research on Thursday. The presumptive Democratic nominee’s spending agenda, which is a direct challenge to President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy, is expected to be a keystone campaign issue.
The plan, called Build Back Better, emphasizes investing in the American worker while arguing that Trump has done just the opposite. “Growing up rich and looking down on people is a bit different than how I grew up here,” said Biden at a metalworks facility in Dunmore, Pa., immediately going for the President’s jugular.
The reveal comes as Biden dominates in national polls, up by about 9 points, but still lags on economic issues. A recent poll by Siena College and the New York Times found that in six battleground states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina), 56% of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy. The high numbers come even as the country falls into recession and faces an 11% unemployment rate as well as uncertainty in trade negotiations with China, Europe, and South America.
But there’s little else voters approve of, and Democratic strategists believe that knocking Trump on the economy could be his campaign’s death knell.
“This is our moment to imagine and build a new American economy for our families and our communities where every American has an equal chance to get ahead,” said Biden, adding that the President had not brought back manufacturing as he’d promised. Biden said his plan would rebuild the middle class by investing in workers instead of instituting tax cuts for the “ultrawealthy.”
The speech is the first in a series of addresses planned around the economy. “Trump has waved the white flag and walked away,” Biden said, repeatedly calling his administration “incompetent” while pointing out that federal support for COVID-19-impacted businesses had mostly gone to large companies and not small businesses.
Biden pointed out that the President tends to equate the stock market with the economy, but said that he would instead focus on working families. “We must reward work as much as we reward wealth,” he said. “But now we just reward excessive wealth.”
Biden’s plan calls for a $400 billion increase in government purchases of U.S.-based goods and services over four years with an additional $300 billion going toward investment in technology and research. The former Vice President claims that his plans would bring back all the jobs lost this year during the COVID-19 pandemic and eventually create another 5 million. The plan, he says, would also reduce American dependence on foreign goods and work to implement trade and tax policies that benefit the country.
He’ll also tighten loopholes in “Buy American” laws which U.S. firms easily circumvent.
The economic plan will strengthen collective bargaining rights and raise the corporate tax cuts instituted by Congress under President Trump from 21% to 28% to fund investments.
Biden told the press on Thursday that “unions built the middle class.” A loud and appropriately poignant rainstorm rolled in as Biden proclaimed that “the only way you deal with power is with power, and labor and unions are the only ones who have the capacity to do it.”
Still, Biden’s plan echoes Trump’s “America First” policy in many respects, and shifts the economic focus away from international cooperation and partnerships to internal matters, a sea change from the Obama-era focus on globalization.
Biden—who advocated for the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership—has been working with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who opposed the trade deal and instead advocated for American industry, in an attempt to win the votes of progressive Democrats. During his speech on Thursday he said he would be tough on China, something that the President has critiqued the candidate on. The Chinese, said Biden, are spending billions on new technologies as “we sit with our thumb in our ear.”
On Wednesday, a Biden-Sanders “unity task force” issued an 110-page document with a number of policy recommendations including a federal jobs program which would put Americans to work on large infrastructure projects.
Many of Biden’s talking points on Thursday were reminiscent of the Sanders platform. “The blinders have been taken off for the American people,” said Biden. “Those who can afford to stay in place have become aware of essential workers,” while advocating for a federal $15 minimum wage.
This is the first of four major policy rollouts. The next will focus on “modern infrastructure and an equitable, clean energy future,” then, an agenda “to build a 21st-century caregiving and education workforce” and a plan to advance racial equity in the country.
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