Joe Biden plans to unveil a proposal Thursday to spend $700 billion on American products and research, challenging President Trump’s “America First” agenda with a competing brand of economic nationalism and setting the stage for an election-year showdown over the country’s financial future.
The Biden campaign says his plan for manufacturing and innovation will bring back jobs lost this year and create at least 5 million more with sweeping investments in domestic technology; reduce dependence on foreign countries to supply critical goods; and implement trade and tax policies that empower U.S. workers.
“Biden does not accept the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization render us helpless to retain well-paid union jobs and create more of them here in America,” says a 15-page summary. “U.S. manufacturing was the Arsenal of Democracy in World War II and must be part of the Arsenal of American Prosperity today, helping fuel an economic recovery for working families.”
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee plans to deliver a speech on his proposal Thursday afternoon in Dunmore, Pa., and visit a metal works facility in the area. It’s the first major element of what Biden’s campaign says will be a four-part agenda to spearhead an economic recovery.
Biden’s pitch underscores a major shift by both major parties away from embracing globalization and free trade and toward protecting American workers and revitalizing struggling domestic industries. Those trends have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the economy.
Biden’s announcement suggests a recognition that support for Trump’s handling of the economy remains a bright spot in his otherwise weak poll numbers. And it reflects the success of Trump’s message that protecting American workers is more important than ensuring a free flow of trade.
Trump’s rise in 2016 was built heavily on promises of bringing back American jobs, as well as blaming immigrants for hurting American workers. As president, he has stoked a trade war with China and imposed tariffs that flew in the face of his party’s orthodoxy.
Biden, who once supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership, has focused his campaign on prioritizing American industries, following the lead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the democratic socialist who was his top rival for the Democratic nomination.
Biden’s plan also reflects the growing alarm sparked by the coronavirus pandemic about the inability of American companies to produce enough medical supplies during a national emergency.
His new platform focuses heavily on using the power of the federal government to promote a U.S. domestic manufacturing base. He is advocating a $400 billion procurement initiative to spur demand for American products and services, as well as a $300 billion investment in U.S. research and breakthrough technologies. Half of the $300 billion is in clean-energy initiatives that were previously announced, the campaign said.
The plan also calls for the government to launch a 100-day “supply chain review” that could require federal agencies to buy only medical supplies and other goods manufactured in the United States.
On the Republican side, White House officials led by senior Trump adviser Peter Navarro have drafted an executive order requiring federal agencies to buy medical supplies and pharmaceuticals produced in America.
That executive order has languished for months, however, amid objections by some of Trump’s other senior advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who have warned that it could lead China to limit the supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE, that it is sending to the United States.
Both campaign are gearing up for a clash over the economy, a normally dominant theme in presidential elections. Trump argues that he built a booming economy before the coronavirus outbreak and could do it again. Biden blames Trump for his erratic reaction to the pandemic and frequent flouting of public health advice, which he says fueled the alarming rate of infections and badly damaged the economy as a result.
More broadly, Biden, who holds a significant lead in the polls, is seeking to close off any possible openings for Trump to make the race more competitive. In the months ahead, he plans to unveil proposals on infrastructure, caregiving and education, and racial equality, all part of what he bills as the “Build Back Better” plan.
In Thursday’s proposal, Biden is calling for closing loopholes around existing “Buy American” clauses; eliminating waivers in Buy American provisions; and cracking down on false advertising of “Buy American” goods.
To finance his economic agenda, Biden’s campaign says he will reverse some of Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and impose “common-sense tax reforms that finally make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.” The campaign declined to provide a more detailed accounting of how it would pay for the $700 billion in spending it is laying out Thursday.
A senior Biden campaign official said more specific details would be released once the full plan is out, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the campaign did not authorize the person to speak on the record.
Biden often touts his central role in the Obama administration, but he has been less eager to tout the administration’s championing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which proved controversial with the party’s union base. Labor leaders said it did too little to require America’s partners improve their environmental and labor standards.
Trump highlighted the shortcomings of the TPP and other trade deals in his 2016 campaign and rejected it upon taking office.
Biden has said he wants to renegotiate the agreement, which includes several Asian countries and which supporters say could serve as a bulwark against China’s influence. Thursday’s plan calls for using tax dollars to “stand up to the Chinese government’s abuses, insist on fair trade, and extend opportunity to all Americans.”
Since the end of the Obama administration, many Democrats have backed off the TPP and focused instead on directly promoting domestic production. Bipartisan momentum has grown in recent weeks for tax incentives for companies to onshore their supply chains, in part because the gaps in U.S. medical supply production exposed by the pandemic.
The nation is facing a new shortage of personal protective equipment, including of N95 masks and medical gowns, as cases rise.
But bringing supply chains back to the United States could prove difficult, and the Trump administration has struggled to do so.
A Biden administration, like the Trump White House, would face the prospect of foreign retaliation for any promotion of American companies. “Buy American” provisions are also likely to face objections from U.S. firms that would see their costs increase if forced to buy more expensive supplies. Senior Biden officials said Wednesday that their plans were carefully vetted and do not run afoul of World Trade Organization rules.
“Incentivizing companies to raise their costs by ‘Buying American’ is not going to fix almost two decades of low productivity growth — it’s going to take us in the opposite direction,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork. “This will just create higher costs for American businesses and consumers.”