Despite his history as a centrist, Joe Biden has moved further to the left than President Barack Obama and previous Democrats when it comes to his spending policies, economists say.
This has occurred, they say, not only because the Democratic base is increasingly progressive but also because of the extraordinary challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.
“Biden is presenting himself as temperamentally moderate, which is why he’s pushing back on some of the protests,” said Brian Riedl, an economist with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “But his actual policy proposals are far to the left, like much of the Democratic Party.”
Riedl said that the last three Democratic presidential nominees, Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, each proposed increases in spending between approximately $1 to $2 trillion during their campaigns. Biden, however, has proposed $11 trillion worth of spending by Riedl’s estimate, which Riedl says is a “humongous” increase compared to previous Democratic candidates.
During the primaries, Biden promised not to “demonize” the rich and said that “nothing would fundamentally change,” if he were to be elected.
However, by the time Biden clinched the Democratic nomination in March, he had started to brand his campaign as one that was working for systemic change in the same realm as Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
Many political analysts, including those in the Biden camp, say he has the most liberal platform in American politics since President Lyndon Johnson ran for president in the 1960s.
“Biden has always been willing to go as bold as he feels is necessary to address the challenges of working families,” said Gene Sperling, director of Obama’s National Economic Council and an informal outside adviser for the Biden campaign. “Which has only grown larger with COVID, rising economic inequality, and the growing existential threat of climate change.”
Biden plans to spend almost $7 trillion over the next decade on areas such as climate change, infrastructure, healthcare, and higher education. He has said he will pay for these ambitious initiatives with approximately $4 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy, on corporations, and on certain investments.
Furthermore, Biden has signaled that he will continue the historic levels of governmental relief spending that started in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing economic shutdowns.
Jared Bernstein, one of Biden’s top economists, told the Washington Examiner that Biden’s policies have “gone demonstrably further” than the Obama-Biden administration did in regards to healthcare, taxes, and climate change.
“The reality is such that Democrats have moved to the left on trade, deficits, healthcare, climate — and all of that is a reality-based shift based on evidence of the problems we are facing,” Bernstein said.
He added that there has been little to no pushback against Biden’s drift to the left within the party. Bernstein said that the entire party had shifted on major policy issues and there was much agreement between the different factions of the party, as evidenced by the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces. The task forces put forth a number of policy recommendations in July that were intended to satisfy both the progressive and centrist wings of the party.
Some economists argue that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a need and opportunity to create larger, more expansive governmental programs.
“The COVID crisis has created a need and opportunity for Biden to spend more because a weak economy needs more recovery efforts,” said Marc Goldwein, the senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group that advocates for deficit reduction.
Goldwein also said that the Democrats have continued to move leftward over the past decade, in terms of their spending programs, which he said shows that Biden is merely part of an ongoing trend, not an aberration.
Historically, the presidential nominee from either party has taken policy cues from the voter base and the party itself. Goldwein said it would be “really hard” for Biden to win the nomination and garner broad support if he advocated for economic policies that were different than that of the party and his fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
The Biden campaign itself says that he is merely rising to the challenges of the moment.
“Joe Biden knows we are in an unprecedented moment, and that tackling historic crises requires big, bold solutions,” said Rosemary Boeglin, a Biden campaign spokesperson. “Joe Biden will invest in the American economy — from education to housing, infrastructure to health care, clean energy and more — and he’ll pay for every last dollar by rolling back Trump’s gifts for the rich and Wall Street, and asking corporations and wealthy taxpayers to chip in their fair share so that we can all build back better.”
Riedl says that Biden’s strategy of moving to the left, with regard to his spending policies, but moving to the center with his temperament has been a winning formula so far.
“It’s been an effective strategy so far, I mean, he’s winning in the polls because Sanders and Warren’s people on the Left will vote for Biden, but he’s also doing well with independents and moderate Republicans,” Riedl said.