Biden-Sanders ‘unity task force’ rolls out platform recommendations

A task force set up by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and former presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released a sweeping set of platform recommendations on Wednesday that lays out a progressive roadmap for Democrats, though one that falls short of Sanders’s push for radical change.

The task force, which was launched in May, laid out its platform recommendations on a number of key issues including climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration policies, health care, education and the economy in a 110-page document. 

Biden and Sanders focused heavily on police reforms and reducing incarceration following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, which has sparked nationwide protests. The health care platform focuses on expanding ObamaCare, rather than moving toward Sanders’s “Medicare for All.” The commission also called for environmental reforms, including carbon-free electricity generation by 2035. 

Sanders and Biden formed the task force shortly after the progressive senator endorsed Biden, despite their disagreements on a number of key issues including Medicare for All. 

The task force is made up of an ideologically diverse group of Democrats including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry.  

“While Joe Biden and I, and our supporters, have strong disagreements about some of the most important issues facing our country, we also understand that we must come together in order to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history,” Sanders said in a statement. 

Biden also praised the work of the task force, saying it has led to a “bold, transformative platform.” 

“I am deeply grateful to Senator Sanders for working together to unite our party, and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come,” Biden said. 

The health care platform outlined in the document makes no mention of Sanders’s signature Medicare for All plan, which would eliminate private health insurance and cover all Americans under a single government-administered plan. 

Instead, the proposal suggests allowing Americans to keep their private health insurance, while also insisting on a so-called public option that would be administered by Medicare.

Americans who do not qualify for Medicaid, the government program that extends health coverage to certain low-income Americans, but still fall below a certain income threshold will be automatically enrolled in the new public option for free, though they will be given the opportunity to opt out of the program.

On criminal justice reform, Democrats pledged to overhaul a system they say has led to “criminalized poverty” and “overpoliced and underserved Black and brown communities.”

Criminal justice reform has taken on additional gravity amid the national uproar over the death of Floyd.

The criminal justice reform commission, which was chaired by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Chiraag Bains, a Justice Department official during the Obama administration, vowed to reduce incarceration and make it easier for former prisoners to reintegrate into society.

“Democrats believe in redemption,” the report states. “We must deepen our commitment to helping those who have served their time re-enter society, earn a good living, and participate in our democracy as the full citizens they are.”

Regarding the police, the commission said it wants all officers to wear body cameras and to end the practice of sending surplus military weapons to local police precincts.

The Democrats will implement procedures to ensure that local police forces are diverse and feature officers who come from within the community.

The Democrats would end the “War on Drugs,” decriminalize and reschedule marijuana and end the practice of cash bail. The report supports ending the use of private prisons and investing in additional training for officers with a focus on avoiding the use of force when possible.

There is an emphasis in the report on ending the “school to prison pipeline” by ensuring that young people of color are not arrested in classrooms for minor offenses that could be handled by school officials.

And there is a focus on sending young people to community-based alternatives to prison, when appropriate.

“If you aren’t old enough to drink, you aren’t old enough to be sentenced to life without parole,” the report states.

On the economy, Democrats have a long list of proposals they said would even the playing field for the working class and racial minorities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democrats said they would reform the unemployment insurance system to ensure that more workers are covered, as well as expand paid sick leave protections.

They plan to extend aid to local governments to address budget shortfalls from the coronavirus shutdown and extend new loans to help small businesses stay open and make payroll. Democrats said they would also increase oversight of large businesses to ensure federal grants are not being used to enrich CEOs or shareholders.

The Democrats support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour while raising taxes on corporations and the nation’s wealthiest.

To address income and wealth inequality among minorities, the Democrats said they would ensure equal access to banking and financial services, expand access to credit and work to boost home ownership.

The Democrats are also promising to guarantee early childhood education, provide tuition-free access to public colleges for families making less than $125,000, cancel up to $10,000 of student debt for families and limit interest on student loans.

“The economy is not working for the American people,” the economic commission, which was chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, concluded in the report.

“In a matter of weeks, the abject failure of President Trump and his Administration to competently respond to the COVID-19 pandemic erased all the job gains made since the Obama-Biden administration pulled the country out of the Great Recession, and plunged the economy into recession,” the report says.

While the proposals outlined in the task force’s memo do not go nearly as far as some progressives had hoped, the recommendations are almost certain to draw criticism from President Trump and Republicans, who have seized on a message that Democrats have lurched to the left in recent years, adopting positions once considered taboo in the country’s mainstream political dialogue.

— Updated at 5:48 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Biden-Sanders task force Bobby Scott Democratic Party Democratic platform Donald Trump election 2020 Joe Biden John Kerry Karen Bass moderates progressives

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