Biden-Sanders 'unity' recommendations: Six key takeaways

The advisory groups formed by Biden and his former rival are aimed at shoring up the progressive vote.

    Biden hopes to maintain the support of progressives in the 2020 election against Donald Trump [File: Matt Rourke/The Associated Press]
    Biden hopes to maintain the support of progressives in the 2020 election against Donald Trump [File: Matt Rourke/The Associated Press]

    "Unity" task forces formed by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and former progressive rival Bernie Sanders, meant to solidify support among the Democratic Party's progressive wing, have unveiled recommendations for the former vice president's policy positions. 

    Those suggestions largely reflect a series of compromises between Biden's previous campaign platforms, which were widely considered moderate within the party, and the platforms of progressives Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who are farther left and have pushed for large-scale systemic change. 

    How much Biden will take on will be unveiled at the August Democratic convention when Biden releases the political platform on which he will run to defeat President Donald Trump.

    In particular, the task force groups, which were composed of an array of prominent Democratic figures, called on Biden to embrace major proposals to combat climate change and institutional racism, while expanding healthcare coverage and rebuilding a coronavirus-ravaged economy. 

    However, the proposals fell short of urging Biden's full endorsement of policies that could prove too divisive for some swing voters in November, specifically universal health coverage under Medicare for All, which has long been Sanders's signature issue, or the sweeping Green New Deal environmental plans proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and pushed by Sanders. 

    In a statement following the release of the recommendations, Sanders reaffirmed his commitment to helping Biden win in November and to moving the country "toward economic, racial, social and environmental justice".

    "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.

    Here are the key points from each of the task force groups:

    Climate

    The task force recommends Biden commits to moving the US to be fully powered by renewable energy, and meet other key environmental benchmarks, by 2035, a goal outlined in Ocasio-Cortez's so-called Green New Deal.

    The goal is far more ambitious than the 2050 deadline Biden embraced during the primary. However, the proposal does not call for a wholesale endorsement of the Green New Deal. 

    The recommendations also notably do not call on Biden to build a ban on hydraulic fracturing into his platform. 

    While previously saying he wants to stop oil and gas drilling on federal lands, Biden's campaign has made it clear he does not support a blanket wide ban on hydraulic fracking. Such a platform is considered potentially harmful to Biden in the energy-producing swing state Pennsylvania.

    Healthcare

    The healthcare group has not called on Biden to endorse Medicare for All, which dominated debate during the Democratic presidential primary. Support of the sweeping policy is considered likely to alienate voters afraid of losing their current, employer-based private health coverage.

    Instead, the recommendations list ways to expand health insurance coverage by building on the Obama administration's signature law, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Biden has long endorsed such a plan, but the task force proposals include some new details on requiring low cost or free primary care visits and some prescription drugs.

    The plan also calls for the creation of special insurance choices during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for those who lost benefits from their employer.  

    "We still believe that Medicare for All is the right way to go and we're still going to continue to fight for that," said Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, who co-led the healthcare task force. "But this was a situation where Joe Biden had already put a stake in the sand on the Affordable Care Act and it was part of his legacy with President Obama."

    Criminal Justice

    The recommendations for Biden's criminal justice platform make no mention of defunding the police, a movement that calls for the diversion of funding from police departments across the US to other public services that have grown amid racial justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd in May. 

    Biden has definitively said he does not support the movement as such, but has proposed conditioning federal aid to police departments on "decency and honorableness". 

    The recommendations also recommend a ban on private prisons in the country. While Biden has called for stopping the federal government's use of such facilities, unlike Sanders, he has not endorsed doing away with them on the state and local level.

    The task force also did not call on Biden to support legalising cannabis at the federal level, which has wide support among the party. Biden has said he supports decriminalising cannabis, but would leave its legality for recreational use up to the states.

    Immigration

    The immigration task force generally promotes undoing controversial Trump-era policies, actions that Biden generally supports.

    Specifically, it calls on Biden to maintain protection for undocumented residents brought to the country as children. Biden has already said he supports a path to citizenship for so-called DREAMers.

    Biden should end Trump's so-called "remain in Mexico policy", which forces those seeking asylum in the US to await their court proceedings in Mexico, the recommendations said. Biden has called the policy "dangerous and inhumane". 

    The recommendations do not call for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

    Sanders was one of only two Democratic presidential candidates who supported such a move, while most had called for the agency to be restructured. The immigration task force, however, did call for greater agency oversight.

    Economy

    The economy task force emphasised creating increased oversight to assure racial equality in workplaces, housing and lending, while calling for "New Deal style" initiatives to create jobs following the coronavirus pandemic.

    The policies are generally bolder than Biden's current campaign platform, which has tended to focus more on incrementally rebuilding the middle class without introducing sweeping new programmes.

    However, Biden recently announced a plan for a $300bn stimulus to increase technology research and development to boost job creation following the pandemic. 

    Education 

    The education task force, most notably, shies away from free public university for all, a policy championed by Sanders. It does say that public universities should be free for families earning less than $125,000 and that community college should be free for all. Biden's current platform contains similar policy points, although only calls for two years of free community college. 

    Recommendations for student debt reduction, as well as universal pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, also align closely with Biden's current platform. 

    The task force also calls for the banning of for-profit charter schools, for which Biden is also in favour. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies