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Biden Focused On Economy, Inequality   06/04 06:26


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Joe Biden is pledging to unveil a series of proposals in 
coming weeks aimed at reversing the economic devastation wrought by the 
coronavirus pandemic and addressing inequalities that have contributed to 
protests sweeping the country.

   The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his aides see some 
parallels to the last time his party wrested the White House from Republicans. 
The economic collapse during the final stages of the 2008 presidential campaign 
gave Barack Obama, with Biden as his running mate, an opportunity to present 
clear contrasts with GOP policies and make the case for sweeping overhauls.

   The dynamics are far more complicated today. The current crisis was prompted 
not by poor bank lending practices but by a dramatic freeze in American life 
that began in March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Joblessness 
is at levels not seen since the Great Depression. And as some states and cities 
reopen, the protests responding to the police killing of George Floyd have 
spurred calls to address inequalities rooted in systemic racism.

   "To have true justice in America, we need economic justice," Biden said this 
week in Philadelphia. "The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic 
racism, to deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation and to deal 
with the denial of the promise of this nation."

   Unemployment numbers from May will be released Friday, providing an updated 
picture of just how challenging Biden's job may be if he wins the presidency.

   The former vice president says the plans to be unveiled this month will 
focus on housing, education and access to capital. In the meantime, he's held 
daily economic briefings, including from chief economists from the Obama 
administration, Jared Bernstein and Ben Harris, and Heather Boushey, a 
progressive economist who advised Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

   Jake Sullivan, Biden's senior policy adviser, said there's been more of an 
emphasis on job creation and the issues holding back the labor market since the 
coronavirus outbreak began.

   "We really accelerated our work in that area, both in terms of how the 
policy team reaches out to experts, and in terms of how the vice president 
spends his time and structures his economic briefings," he said.

   Biden's campaign has hinted it would like to pursue an even more expansive 
set of reforms than those proposed by Obama in the wake of the financial 
crisis. That includes aid to middle-class families rather than corporations, 
bolstering workers' rights and removing some of the barriers to expansion in 
the labor force, like boosting access and government support for child and 
elder care. It has also discussed returning the supply chain to the U.S. and 
investments in green infrastructure to create jobs.

   "They are realities about the underlying structure of the American economy 
that have just been laid bare by this pandemic," Bernstein said.

   Biden, who ran a centrist campaign to win the primary, was moving to the 
left on some economic issues before the virus hit. That's part of an effort to 
woo progressives who've shunned him. He supported a minimum-wage increase, 
adopted some of Bernie Sanders' free college tuition plan and embraced 
Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy reform plan.

   His campaign is also working with Sanders' advisers to find more common 
ground on top issues.

   But as Biden and other alumni of the Obama administration can attest, grand 
ambitions sometimes meet more challenging realities. A new administration 
generally has about one year to usher its biggest proposals through Congress 
before attention turns to the midterm elections and the president's own 

   Even in the best of times, that can be challenging. Initially benefiting 
from strong Democratic majorities in Congress, Obama muscled through an $800 
billion economic stimulus and major health care and financial services reforms 
before Republicans took control of the House and blocked most of his agenda.

   "When the tea party got there in 2010, it's not that the Obama team didn't 
go far enough, it's that Congress blocked us," Bernstein said.

   While Democrats are increasingly bullish about their odds of taking control 
of the Senate, there's little chance that they would gain the filibuster-proof 
majorities they had at points during the Obama years, forcing a Biden 
administration to work with some Republicans.

   That, along with the urgency of preventing additional waves of the virus, 
could make it hard for Biden to deliver on his biggest priorities.

   Austan Goolsbee, Obama's chief economic adviser during the 2008 campaign who 
later served on the Council of Economic Advisers, noted there was a similar 
concern during those years that simply reacting to the economic crisis could 
take the focus off progressive priorities. There's a risk of that happening 
now, he said.

   The focus on the bleak economy "means climate change and criminal justice 
reform, and some of the other issues  not that they aren't important, just 
they're not going to be the first thing on people's minds," Goolsbee said.

   Still, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants and a 
leader of the joint Biden-Sanders policy task force on the economy, said that 
making sweeping changes to the economy should be more urgent now  not less.

   "The coronavirus is laying bare all of the holes in our economic platform," 
Nelson said.

   Of course, Biden must win the election before he can accomplish anything. 
And President Donald Trump argues that he presided over an economic boom and 
can do it again if voters give him another term in office.

   "Americans know the economy reached unprecedented heights under President 
Trump's leadership before it was artificially interrupted by the coronavirus 
and they know he will build it back up a second time," said Trump campaign 
spokeswoman Sarah Matthews.

   Bernstein said even if there is a recovery, "we're going to be pointing to 
devastating levels."

   "We're not going to let him wiggle out of his horrifically irresponsible 
response to the crisis," he said. "The idea that Trump built a great economy 
and then the virus came along and now he's rebuilding it again just simply 
doesn't correspond to the facts."

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