Joe Biden announced today that he’ll adopt two new policy proposals in an attempt to court Sanders voters and other progressives. The first is a plan to lower Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60. The second is a means-tested student debt relief plan. Although this move is being described as a “big overture” by Washington Post columnists Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, I don’t believe they go nearly far enough.
Biden’s plan to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 is a far cry from Sanders’s Medicare For All proposal, which would make all Americans eligible over a four-year rollout. The former Vice President’s healthcare plan would still only cover an estimated 97% of Americans, and would likely leave tens of millions underinsured. In 2016, Hillary Clinton proposed lowering Medicare eligibility to 55.
Biden’s second policy concession is a bit more robust, but still leaves much to be desired. The debt relief plan would forgive all federal undergraduate student loans from private HBCUs, MSIs, and two and four year public college and universities for those earning less than $125,000 a year.
This is an incremental shift left for Biden, who previously only wanted to cancel $10,000 per person and forgive federal students loans after twenty years or longer.
Sanders had proposed cancelling all $1.6 trillion of student debt and introduced legislation to do so on June 24, 2019.
forgiving all federal undergraduate student loans from two- and four-year public colleges and universities and any private HBCUs or MSIs for debt-holders earning up to $125,000. The plan builds on Biden’s existing student loan plan to cancel $10,000 of student debt per person, forgive federal student loans after 20 years and more.
Earlier in the primary, Biden adopted two other plans put forward by Sanders and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who dropped out after a disappointing Super Tuesday.
On March 15, Biden adopted a 2017 Sanders proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for families earning less than $125,000 a year. In 2020, Sanders ran on making public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students, regardless of family income.
What Biden didn’t mention when announcing this proposal was that he previously supported it — in 2015.
When announcing support for the position, Biden said:
“We’re fighting for 14 years — we need to commit to 16 years of free public education for all our children. We know that 12 years of public education is not enough. As a nation, let’s make the same commitment to a college education today that we made to a high school education a hundred years ago.”
Biden also adopted Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy plan. The Senator’s plan would make it easier to get debt relief, address gender and racial disparities in the bankruptcy system, and much more.
What Biden didn’t say is that Warren’s plan would undo much of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), which the two sparred over in 2005. Biden was a major player in helping pass the bill, while Warren strongly opposed it.
What Should The Left Demand?
The left needs to focus more on power than policy concessions, especially considering Biden’s record of lying about his political positions and record on the campaign trail. It will be much easier for the left to keep Biden in check if they secure cabinet positions, or at least prevent him from appointing individuals who would serve as a barrier to progressive legislation.
Some left groups have made such demands. Seven youth-led progressive organizations have sent a list of demands to Biden, which includes a detailed “Personnel and Future Administration” section. Among the personnel demands are demands to appoint elected officials who endorsed Sanders or Warren as Transition Co-Chairs and deny Wall Street executives and corporate lobbyists cabinet positions or advisory roles.
Unfortunately for the left, they don’t have much leverage at the moment. Biden steamrolled the field from South Carolina onward, and Bernie Sanders has made it clear he’ll support Biden no matter the circumstances.
Biden also leads President Trump in 24 of the past 25 head-to-head polls. At this point, there’s no incentive for the former Vice President to make significant concessions.