top of page

The Case for Progressives to Support Joe Biden July 2020 Summary, by Lisa Lesniak

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

1. Most progressive agenda in Democratic presidential history

a. $15 minimum wage and pro-union (Protecting Right to Organize Act)

b. Climate goals – 35 years to zero emissions; 500k solar panels, reduce fossil fuels, include attention to racial justice provide 40% to disaffected area

c. Economic goals through infrastructure and green energy economy

d. Criminal justice reform: end cash bail, end private prisons, end minimum sentencing, end death penalty

e. Universal health care with public option, reduce age for Medicare to 60, $775B for care giver assistance

2. Joe Biden is comforting for many in this time of crisis; steady leadership; honest and has integrity; not corrupt

3. Working with Sanders and his supporters on task forces to develop policy and platform

4. Pro Choice; original sponsor of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 (not currently law)

5. Build Back Better – FDR type approach

6. Obama addressed issues that stymie progressive legislation during eulogy for John Lewis. Given Obama support for Biden, it may be safe to presume Biden shall move to and adopt these policies.

a. Making DC and Puerto Rico states to get 4 new Senators

b. Eliminate filibuster

Moving to the Left

The Democratic nominee winnowed to a choice between a left-wing revolutionary (Senator Bernie Sanders) and an ideological and dispositional moderate (Mr. Biden). Mr. Biden shares progressive goals such as achieving universal health care or combating climate change, but his vision for how to achieve them is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Instead of returning to normal, Biden endorses policies that will enable us to Build Back Better.

Progressives specifically see the current turmoil as evidence of the need for bold change. When Mr. Biden recently said that the times called for an ambitious, F.D.R.-size response, they were lifted. “He seems to be recognizing that, in the midst of Covid-19, simply going back to normal, which was his original orientation, is insufficient,” said Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party. “This is actually an opportunity for a transformational agenda.” There is improvement in the climate crisis and criminal justice sections, compared to Biden’s previous positions on the subject,” said Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution,

Mr. Biden has gently edged left on certain issues in a reassuring gesture to progressives. He endorsed Senator Warren’s bankruptcy reform and accepted a version of Senator Sanders’ plan to make four-year public colleges tuition-free for many students. Mr. Biden has called for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60.

The Biden Campaign released a 110-page document on July 8, featuring wins for the left, such as the withholding of federal funds from states that use cash bail and an accelerated timetable for achieving net-zero emissions. Influential allies, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were included in discussions around these policies.

Mr. Biden’s basic instinct remains not to raze, but to “Build Back Better,” his named economic plan.

Valid Concerns for Progressives

Rahm Emanuel is advising the campaign on economic policy and political strategy as is Larry Summers offering his economic insights.

Old white men like Chris Dodd advising him on VP selection.

The document is a statement of progressive goals, but, true to Biden, it is not pushing for seismic disruption.

His proposals stop short of endorsing systemic overhauls like the Green New Deal or Medicare for All and steer clear of trigger issues like abolishing ICE, decriminalizing border crossings, fully legalizing pot and banning fracking.

DNC Platform 2016

Health Care

Securing Universal Health Care Democrats believe that health care is a right, not a privilege, and our health care system should put people before profits. As part of that guarantee, Americans should be able to access public coverage through a public option, and those over 55 should be able to opt in to Medicare. Democrats will also work to end surprise billing and other practices that lead to out-of-control medical debt that place an unconscionable economic strain on American households. Democrats will keep costs down by making premiums more affordable, reducing out-of-pocket expenses, and capping prescription drug costs. And we will fight against insurers trying to impose excessive premium increases.

Climate - Building a Clean Energy Economy

We are committed to getting 50 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources within a decade, with half a billion solar panels installed within four years and enough renewable energy to power every home in the country. We will cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals, and offices through energy efficient improvements; modernize our electric grid; and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world. These efforts will create millions of new jobs and save families and businesses money on their monthly energy bills. We will make new investments in public transportation and build bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas. Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies as well as defending and extending tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.

Employee Wages

Raising Workers’ Wages Democrats believe that we should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it, give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy so every worker can earn at least $15 an hour. We also support creating one fair wage for all workers by ending the subminimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities.

Criminal Justice

1. Cash Bail – nothing

2. Private Prisons – nothing

3. Mandatory Minimum sentences – nothing

DNC Platform 2020 (not yet approved)

The Democratic joint task forces consisting of Biden and Sanders representatives deliver Biden a blueprint for a progressive presidency. Platform committee co-chair Denis McDonough, who served as Obama's chief of staff, called it the "boldest Democratic platform in American history."

The draft platform draws heavily from a report issued by joint task forces organized by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. It tries to bridge the gap between Sanders' progressive politics and Biden's more moderate approach to governing.

Still, anticipating virtual floor fights and frustration from progressive activists who want the party to set an even more aggressive policy course, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said at the top of the committee meeting that "we should never confuse unity with unanimity, nor should we confuse debate with division."

The platform also sets aggressive goals for combating climate change, including making all American power plants carbon neutral by 2035 and adding 500 million solar panels and 60,000 wind turbines to the country's electricity grid within the next five years.

Biden Plan

The campaign is conferring with over 100 left-leaning experts on economic policy. Biden’s regular briefings are conducted by a smaller core of liberal economists, former Obama officials and advisers to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Mr. Biden has included Mr. Sanders in the process to form working groups to hammer out joint proposals on various policy issues. Sanders said he is “prepared to come together to do everything humanly possible to defeat Donald Trump.”

Health Care

Biden has not supported Medicare for All, and yet he has been chosen as the nominee. However, he has moved to the left in lowering the age for eligibility for Medicare to 60 and proposing a $775 billion investment to tackle the nation’s “caregiving crisis.” And he intends to get more access to Americans affordable health care insurance coverage by decreasing the maximum percentage health coverage is of income, which will reduce costs to consumers. He will reduce surprise billing, tackle market share of insurance companies, repeal exception for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and terminate tax breaks for marketing drugs.

The draft party document endorses universal health care and makes it clear that low- or no-cost coverage for every American is the party's eventual goal. Rather than backing a single mandatory government-run health insurance program, however, it calls for adding a public option to the existing Affordable Care Act.

The platform does nod to "Medicare for All," the policy backed by Sanders, saying: "We are proud our party welcomes advocates who want to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and those who support a Medicare for All approach."

Climate Change - Building a Clean Energy Economy

Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.

He plans to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure and clean energy over four years to significantly escalate the use of clean energy in the transportation, electricity and building sectors, part of a suite of sweeping proposals designed to create economic opportunities and strengthen infrastructure while also tackling climate change. Mr. Biden built on his plans for reviving the economy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, with a new focus on enhancing the nation’s infrastructure and emphasizing the importance of significantly cutting fossil fuel emissions.

His climate plan appears to have made some inroads with progressive Democrats: “This is not a status quo plan,” said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a prominent environmentalist who endorsed Mr. Biden.

For the first time, Biden pressed the need to link environmental advocacy to racial justice because pollution and other toxic harms disproportionately affect communities of color. His plan calls for establishing an office of environmental and climate justice at the Justice Department.

Mr. Biden sets a goal for disadvantaged communities to receive 40 percent of all clean energy and infrastructure benefits he was proposing. He also made explicit references to tribal communities and called for expanding broadband access to tribal lands.

Elizabeth Kronk Warner, the dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said she was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Biden’s plan.

“Usually environmental justice is an afterthought or it’s not clearly quantified,” she said. “As a citizen of a tribe, I very much appreciate that he explicitly references tribal communities.”

The plan is the product of discussions with climate activists and experts; union officials and representatives from the private sector; and mayors and governors. Evergreen Action, an organization that advocates far-reaching climate goals, also discussed ideas with Mr. Biden’s staff in recent months, the organization said.

Mr. Biden’s original plan called for spending $1.7 trillion over 10 years with a goal of achieving net-zero emissions before 2050. The new blueprint significantly increases the amount of money and accelerates the timetable.

Employee Wages

Biden believes this is no time to just build back to the way things were before, with the old economy’s structural weaknesses and inequalities still in place. This is the moment to imagine and build a new American economy for our families and the next generation. Biden has said, let’s not just praise them, let’s pay them — a decent wage.

This first plank focused on reviving manufacturing and included measures such as a $300 billion increase in R&D investment and $400 billion in procurement spending on American-made goods. He endorses at least $15 per hour, ending the tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities, and strong benefits to live a middle-class life and provide opportunity for their kids. This starts with passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

Criminal Justice

1. End cash bail. Cash bail is the modern-day debtors’ prison. The cash bail system incarcerates people who are presumed innocent. And, it disproportionately harms low-income individuals. 

2. Stop corporations from profiteering from incarceration. Biden will end the federal government’s use of private prisons, it should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants. Biden also will eliminate private prisons and all other methods of profiteering from incarceration such as diversion programs, commercial bail, and electronic monitoring. Biden supports the passage of legislation to crack down on the practice of private companies charging high fees to make calls.

3. Eliminate mandatory minimums. Biden supports an end to mandatory minimums. As president, he will work for the passage of legislation to repeal mandatory minimums at the federal level.

Challenges to Enacting Progressive Ideals

1. Need more senators

Democrats face extreme difficulty in the Senate. The Senate is a product of a slave economy created to protect slave states. When North Dakotans (who number 760,000+) have the same 2 senators as Californians (who number 40,000,000+), representation is unequal. This inequality ultimately prevents popular progressive policy ideas from becoming popular progressive laws. This must be explained to an impatient public: it is the structural obstacles more than the candidate hindering progress. If we do not fix the Senate, it will not matter if Democrats win the presidency in 2020, 2024, or every election in this century—conservatives will continue to dictate the policies in America.

There are three main reasons to increase the number of senators (DC and Puerto Rico):

A. First, there are some good senators—even some very good senators, but there are no giants, for example, John McCain, Ted Kennedy.

B. Second, by requiring sixty votes to pass a bill, the Senate is designed to do nothing when the country urgently needs action on a wide array of priorities.

C. Third, the Senate is fundamentally antidemocratic in a way that is a giant problem for Democrats. The long-term population trends are very bad for Democrats even as traditional Democratic voters become a bigger part of the overall population. Young people have been moving from smaller, more rural areas in red and purple states to cities in bigger, bluer states, giving them access to better jobs and cultural opportunities but diminishing their political power. According to one study from the University of Virginia, by 2040, 70 percent of the population will live in sixteen states, which means that the remaining 30 percent of the population will control sixty-eight Senate seats. All of this means that the political power of nonwhite voters is being dramatically diluted. Under this scenario, it is hard to see how the Democrats get to fifty Senate votes, let alone the sixty needed to pass a single bill. All of the talk of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, gun safety laws, and just about every single thing that Democrats campaigned on in 2016, 2018, and 2020 are dead on arrival even under the most optimistic electoral outcomes.

2. Eliminate the Filibuster

A. The 2018 elections were a massive landslide for Democrats. In the House races, the Democrats won the popular vote by more than eight points, a huge margin. Yet, Dems only gained 40 seats as compared to 2010 when GOP gained 63 seats with only 6.6 points.

B. The basis of democracy is majority rule. It is certainly much easier to explain than why a minority of senators representing a distinct minority of the public can block legislation supported by the majority of the public.

We will do well to remember that the filibuster is a remnant of the Jim Crow era used to maintain inequality.

A vote to keep the filibuster is a vote against the next Democratic president’s agenda because partisanship will not permit GOP to vote for sensible, progressive policies. The Dems will never achieve 60 senators based on current math and maps. So, to pass a Dem president’s legislative agenda, the filibuster must be abolished.

C. The argument that eliminating the filibuster is very risky is a fair point. Based on the demographic trends, the Republicans are likely to control the Senate more often than Democrats. Imagine all the terrible laws Republicans could pass in that situation. In the meantime, though, without it we can pass progressive legislation that is often hard to reverse once ion place, i.e. ACA.

3. Eliminate electoral College

National Popular Vote coalition of states that popular vote winner takes the state’s electoral college votes. Must have sufficient states to reach 270 electoral college votes. So far, 17 states have adopted the NPV. Again, majority rule is easy to understand and makes each vote count equally.


New York Times, various articles, July 2020

Untrumping America, By Dan Pfeiffer, Obama Administration Alum, 2020

77 views3 comments
bottom of page