How Joe Biden's policies will mark a departure from Donald Trump

US president-elect has placed three issues front and centre: racial inequality, climate change and Covid-19

(FILES) In this file photo former Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on October 13, 2020. US President-elect Joe Biden on November 9, 2020 named the scientists who will lead his administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, signaling his plans to prioritize Covid-19 from the outset. The advisory board will be led by three co-chairs: epidemiologist and former Federal Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner David Kessler, former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, and Yale public health professor Marcella Nunez-Smith, according to a statement from the Biden transition team.

 / AFP / JIM WATSON

Promising a “new social contract", US president-elect Joe Biden has outlined several core policies which, if implemented, would mark a radical departure from President Donald Trump.

Three issues have been front and centre: racial inequality, climate change and Covid-19.

In June, Mr Biden promised “an era of action to reverse systemic racism", as America grappled with some of the worst social tensions for decades.

In some ways, these policy pillars are holistic: Mr Biden has promised “an economy more vibrant and more powerful precisely because everybody will be included in the deal”.

Tax incentives will be revised in so-called "opportunity zones", economically distressed areas where the government has attempted to spur economic investment, and a $30 billion small business fund will be established for these areas.

Community policing programmes will also receive $300 million in funding, in the hope that trust can be restored in some of the country’s most divided neighbourhoods.

But there is much more – if Mr Biden can get potential legislation past what is likely to be a Republican-dominated Senate.

Let’s take a look at the core policies Mr Biden and Kamala Harris, the vice-president elect, have lined up:

Research and development

Mr Trump promised to revitalise American power, but critics said he was slow to authorise spending on scientific research and development.

Without this investment, some feared there would be no repeat of the “American century”, defined by technological milestones such as the moon landing and nuclear power.

This would leave the US vulnerable to gains by the Chinese tech industry, notably in artificial intelligence, as well as military developments such as hypersonic flight – weapons and aircraft that travel over five times the speed of sound.

The Association of American Universities warned earlier this year that China is about to overtake the US in spending on scientific research.

Mr Trump responded to these concerns, earmarking $142.2bn in the administration’s proposed 2021 budget to prioritise the “industries of the future” including AI and quantum information science.

The latter has a number of applications, including the construction of supercomputers.

Mr Biden has pledged to go further, allocating $300bn over four years to scientific research and creating a separate fund for clean energy research, totalling $400bn.

Environment

Until recently, Mr Biden’s colleagues in the Democratic party have not shied away from discussing the cost of making the US carbon neutral.

In June last year, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez remarked that a green economic development plan, the Green New Deal, would cost $10 trillion.

“People are going to call it unrealistic, and I just don't think people understand how bad the problem is,” she remarked at the time.

Mr Biden has referred to this plan – which critics say is prohibitively expensive and lacks detail – as a useful framework, but nonetheless plans to spend $1.7 trillion on a raft of climate-focused measures over 10 years.

That figure bears repeating: the entire global investment in renewable energy for 2019, according to the International Energy Agency, was $330bn.

Focus will also be international – Mr Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, but domestically policy will focus on incentivising investment in renewables and electric vehicles, while deterring environmental destruction.

Legislation passed by Mr Trump to ease restrictions on the US oil industry will likely be overturned.

For electric vehicles, Mr Biden has pledged to roll out 500,000 electric charging stations across the US in the coming years, also offering tax rebates on electric vehicle purchases.

In the power sector, Mr Biden has pledged to eliminate carbon emissions by 2035 – so we can expect a huge push for solar energy.

Coronavirus and the economy

These issues have strong crossover since the virus has wiped out 20 million jobs and threatens to destroy at least $16tn in economic value in the coming years, according to a report by former US Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers.

But Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over the size and format of a second stimulus package, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushing for $2.2 trillion and the Republicans preferring a smaller package of $1.8 trillion, having initially pressed for a much smaller $500bn relief package.

As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the spring, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARE) was passed, allowing the distribution of 160 million cheques and cash payments to struggling individuals, between $1,200 and $2,400 for married couples.

Failure to agree on a package before the end of this year could delay stimulus cheques to millions of Americans and struggling sectors such as the airline industry, worsening an already fragile economic outlook.

Because of the crisis, Mr Biden has pledged to tackle the virus head on, not only through his task force of health experts to guide government policy, but through ensuring enough resources are directed at the problem.

The president-elect has promised to allocate $25bn for vaccine programmes alone. Whether these measures can be agreed upon in Congress or not, one thing is clear: Covid-19 has put the American economy on the brink, and Mr Biden will be in a race against time to strike a compromise.

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