The Biden Agenda: What the Next Four Years Might Look Like

Analysts and experts weigh in on his proposals on taxes, education, poverty, foreign policy, and more.

In the months leading up to the election, The Dispatch asked expert analysts to weigh in on what a Biden administration might do in specific policy areas. Biden has a long history in the Senate, and served for eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. He has spent the last year making promises on the campaign trail. Now that he’s won the presidency, it’s worth revisiting our analyses to glean some insight into what we can expect for the next few years. We’ve collected the pieces in one handy guide. 

Joe Biden Has an $11 Trillion Spending Plan. Can He Enact It?

Biden is championed by the left as a reasonable moderate who will save America from the divisiveness and callous policy errors of the Trump era. But as Manhattan Institute senior fellow Brian Riedl points out, Biden’s $11 trillion spending proposal is anything but  moderate, and may ultimately spell disaster for our country’s already soaring national debt problem. “Essentially, Biden and the Democrats are gambling that building the largest government debt in world history will not endanger the economy, and that interest rates will remain low forever,” Riedl warns after running the numbers on Biden’s wildly progressive tax-and-spend agenda. “If they are wrong, the costs to taxpayers and in economic growth could be devastating.” Read the whole thing.

Eyes on Iran

Biden’s Middle Eastern policy, for its part, may not wholly deviate from that of the Trump administration. While the Biden-Harris ticket has promised a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal, it will likely continue Trump’s moves to downgrade America’s presence in the Middle East. Reuel Marc Gerecht elaborates. “The United States has been scaling down in the Middle East since 2009. That surely isn’t going to change with Biden. He carries the scars of the Iraq War that he once ardently supported,” Gerecht writes. “He will likely seek significant cuts in American defense spending despite armed force being the sine qua non of the region.” Read the whole thing

What Would a Biden Administration Do on Trade?

Scott Lincicome, Dispatch contributor and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, has been unsparing in his criticism of Donald Trump’s trade policies. But he’s pretty pessimistic as to whether a President Biden would be any better. He’s encouraged that Biden would try to improve trade relations with our allies like the EU and Canada, but says “Biden will be less openly hostile to foreign trade as President Trump, but shouldn’t be expected to usher in a new era of pro-trade policies. Instead, we should expect some improvement, some stasis, and maybe even some deterioration.” Areas for concern include Biden’s affection for carbon tariffs and protectionist efforts to revive American manufacturing. And some things we just don’t know—like whether Biden would try to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership,now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Read the whole thing.

What Would Biden Do about Poverty?

Scott Winship, the director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, divides Biden’s anti-poverty plans into three separate categories: his likely response to the coronavirus pandemic, policies that will have implications for economic growth, and policies that explicitly address poverty. In regards to the pandemic, he asks, “Can there be any doubt that a President Biden would do a better job in this regard than the current administration?” But from there on out, the picture gets less optimistic. Winship cautions that Biden’s protectionist trade policies, tax proposals, and minimum wage hikes could slow economic growth And his explicit anti-poverty programs—expanded tax credits and more generous access to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security Disability Insurance, among others, will get pretty expensive. Read the whole thing.

Can Joe Walk a Fine Line on Climate Change?

Steven F. Hayward, a climate-policy expert and resident scholar at UC-Berkley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, places Biden’s climate change plan somewhere between Bernie Sanders’ radical $16 trillion environmental aspirations and the Obama-era’s unintentional revival of fossil fuels. But as Hillary Clinton proved in 2016, pushing an agenda that eliminates key energy sector jobs doesn’t land well politically. To avoid a “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of business” moment, the Biden administration will very likely veil its climate programs in a stimulus or infrastructure bill aimed at job creation. But, as Hayward points out, “treating energy as a jobs program is a recipe for policy mistakes and outright failures.” Read the whole thing

Would Biden Stand Up to Dictators?

When foreign policy took the spotlight during the Democratic National Convention, it was but for a fleeting moment when Biden vowed he would “make it clear to our adversaries the days of cozying up to dictators are over.” Are these just empty words? Or does Biden’s foreign policy record give us reason to believe that Biden will stand up to our enemies? “The major challenges to U.S. national security today come primarily from autocratic, revisionist countries and terrorists who are disadvantaged by this system and would prefer to revise it or tear it down,” writes Matthew Kroenig, a professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University and the deputy director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. “These challengers include: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and international terrorism.” After summarizing Trump’s foreign policy record in these particular regions, Kroenig reminds us why we should be skeptical that Biden will follow through on his promise to stand up to our enemies on the international stage. Read the whole thing.

What Biden Might Do for Working Families

From a shattered labor market to shuttered schools, working class Americans are enduring an extreme degree of economic hardship that will take years to bounce back from. “Biden’s campaign seems very attuned to this fact, with a general stance of listening and empathy,” writes Abby M. McCloskey, an economist and adviser to several GOP campaigns. McCloskey grades Biden’s policy goals as they relate to childcare, paid leave, taxation, and work. Her conclusion? Biden’s policy proposals veer far too left and leave much to be desired. “But one has a feeling that the 2020 presidential election is bigger than policy,” McCloskey concedes, “and the power of compassion should not be underestimated.” Read the whole thing.

What Will K-12 Education Look Like?

When it comes to a Biden presidency’s plans for K-12 schooling, Andy Smarick, former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, warns us to “expect a further expansion of executive branch authority.” Drawing on the Obama administration’s example of progressive personnel appointments and Biden-Harris campaign promises of an increased education budget, Smarick outlines some of the sweeping federal policies that could threaten decentralized and deliberative K-12 choices by states—among them, the elimination of standardized tests, universal free meals, and the ability of early childhood educators to unionize. “The nation is too polarized, the left’s political and policy apparatus is too energized, and the precedents for bureaucratic boldness are too many for us to bet on humility and moderation,” he writes. Read the whole thing.

Why ‘Outside-In’ Diplomacy Could Be the Key to Middle East Peace

President Trump surprised many by helping broker an unprecedented peace deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, one that paved the way for other moderate Sunni Arab states to recognize Israel. The question is, what would a President Biden do with that progress? Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, looks at the possibility. He points out that past presidents have used an “inside-out” approach that focused directly on Palestinian-Israeli relations. He suggests that Biden would have a hard time ignoring Trump’s accomplishments but that he might face opposition from his own party in regards to aligning with Sunni Arab states, which could make it difficult to work with Iran. Read the whole thing.

What Could Be Ahead for Higher Education

Free college! Debt forgiveness! A return to Obama’s disastrous Title IX policy! There’s not a lot for conservatives to love in Biden’s proposals for higher education. Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, breaks it all down—and adds up the cost. Biden suggested giving all Americans two years of community college, and also endorsed a Bernie Sanders plan to make public higher education free for families making $125,000 or fewer. Add that to his plan for forgiving college debt, and he’s spent $2.9 trillion—and all for “policies [that] seem geared to serving the Americans with the best financial prospects. It’s an odd sort of progressivism.” His plan to return to Obama’s Title IX policy ignores the due process problems that resulted in hundreds of lawsuits. Those policies resulted in students accused of sexual assault [being] expelled after university-run show trials with no right to an attorney, no right to question their accuser, and no right to see the evidence.” Read the whole thing.

Let’s Talk About the Courts, Congress, and Abortion

A caveat: The Dispatch published Ramesh Ponnuru’s analysis of Biden’s potential abortion agenda on September 15. Given the important role that courts play on this issue, it’s worth noting that was three days before the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But there are still ways that Biden can affect abortion policy. Ponnuru looks at what might happen to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion, Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, and how a “public option” for health care could cover abortion services. Read the whole thing.

Photograph by Andrew Harnik/AFP/Getty Images.