Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Deepen Their Cooperation

Allies of Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled a sweeping set of joint policy recommendations on Wednesday, a significant if tentative sign of cooperation among Democrats as Mr. Biden’s campaign continues its appeals to the progressive left.Mr. Biden is expected to adopt many of the recommendations, which were submitted by six policy task forces and cover a wide range of issues including health care, criminal justice, education and climate change.For all of the details, the lengthy recommendation document amounted to a collection of widely acceptable liberal proposals, many of which Mr. Biden has already embraced in his bid for party unity. And they come at a time when policy differences that stood out in the primary campaign have largely faded to the backdrop as Democrats look toward a shared goal: defeating President Trump.The recommendations to Mr. Biden on economics include broader and costlier plans than he has championed so far in his campaign, and the proposals on climate change include new benchmarks for reducing carbon emissions. Though Mr. Sanders favors universal, single-payer health care, the recommendations adhere to Mr. Biden’s approach of building on the Affordable Care Act. And Republicans will find plenty to fault among the proposals, like a 100-day moratorium on deportations, a move that Mr. Biden had previously backed.The policy recommendations will also most likely frustrate some in the Democratic Party’s activist wing who believe they do not go far enough. The task forces did not recommend plans that Mr. Sanders promoted like “Medicare for all,” tuition-free public college for everyone or canceling all student debt.As the economic and public health impact of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, some consensus between the two factions of the party had already begun to form. The groups also met amid intense unrest over racial injustice, spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, that has focused attention nationwide on systemic racism and inequality.Among the recommendations put forth by the health care task force are new health insurance programs for the duration of the pandemic. The task force suggested government-funded COBRA coverage for people who recently lost job-based coverage, and the creation of a new Obamacare plan that would have no deductible and would be free for low-income Americans.The document also adds new details to an existing Biden campaign proposal to create a “public option” plan that would be run by the Medicare system to compete with private health insurers. That plan would include a no-deductible option. Low-income Americans who are not eligible for Medicaid would be automatically enrolled in the plan at no cost, though they could opt out if they wished. Anyone else would be eligible to buy it if they preferred it to other choices.Other recommendations included a proposal from the economy task force for an executive order to prohibit government contracts with companies that pay less than a $15 minimum wage or that do not remain neutral in unionization efforts; a goal from the climate change task force to eliminate carbon emissions from power plants by 2035; and the creation of an environmental justice fund that will invest in federal agencies to address the disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental hazards that communities of color bear.The task forces also gave broad policy recommendations to the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee.In a statement, Mr. Biden commended the task forces’ work and expressed gratitude toward Mr. Sanders “for working together to unite our party, and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come.”Mr. Sanders, for his part, acknowledged the progress his supporters had made — but also nodded to some lasting disappointment.“Though the end result is not what I or my supporters would have written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country,” he said.The extensive recommendations concluded nearly two months of sometimes tense deliberations by the task forces, which Mr. Biden formed as part of his effort to bridge the division between the Democratic establishment and progressives who are unenthusiastic about his candidacy and his longtime message of incremental change.The task forces included core Biden supporters like former Secretary of State John Kerry and Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general under President Barack Obama, as well as top Sanders allies like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.Mr. Kerry and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez were co-chairs of the climate change task force, which was hailed from the outset as an important development that signified in part the Biden campaign’s commitment to winning over younger and more liberal voters.The formation of joint policy working groups had been a crucial compromise from the Biden campaign that helped ease the way for Mr. Sanders to withdraw from the presidential race in early April. But when Mr. Biden announced the task forces in mid-May — on health care, immigration, criminal justice reform, education, climate change and the economy — it was unclear whether they would produce policy results or simply the more symbolic appearance of political harmony.To facilitate Mr. Biden’s approval of the recommendations, the co-chairs of the committees worked with the campaign to seek agreement on the language, several people involved with the task forces said.“The campaign accepted these recommendations, which I think is a huge achievement,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a co-chair of the health care task force.She added, “Most of the people on the task force were probably even to the left of where we ended up because the Biden campaign had to essentially approve everything as we went along and agree to everything as we went along.”And though the set of recommendations from her task force “doesn’t go as far as we all wanted on the Sanders side,” Ms. Jayapal said, she still viewed it as “a real step forward.”Committee meetings, which were conducted remotely by Zoom and at times stretched to three or four hours, were generally respectful and civil even when they grew contentious, several people said. The fact that there were very few leaks about the conversations to the news media made members feel they were able to be more candid with their disagreements.But even as there was a sense among some Sanders-aligned members of the task forces that they had made valuable inroads, the ultimate proposals reflected a compromise that hewed toward what the Biden campaign would find palatable.Mr. Biden’s supporters, for instance, did not fully embrace a plan to eliminate all student debt — a key pillar of Mr. Sanders’s agenda — resulting in a series of compromises, including canceling $50,000 of debt for educators. (Mr. Biden had already introduced his own student debt cancellation proposal in April, though it was narrower than what Mr. Sanders had advocated in his campaign.)Members of the criminal justice reform task force also butted heads over the legalization of marijuana, a policy Mr. Biden does not support.Ideological fissures were particularly fierce on the economic task force, according to several people, with Biden representatives remaining skeptical of the kinds of universal economic programs espoused by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and backed by the Sanders-aligned members.“There were all kinds of frustrations here,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants union and a Sanders-aligned co-chair of the economy task force, adding: “If somebody were to say, ‘Well, are you pleased with the outcome?’ That’s all relative.”But she also said it was important to consider the relatively unprecedented nature of the joint task forces and what they actually did achieve.“The people who supported Bernie Sanders — this absolutely gives us a step forward,” she said. “We improved Biden’s policies, and you can always be stronger in the fight when you’re fighting from higher ground.”Even if some progressives remain unhappy with Mr. Biden, there are signs that some who opposed him in the primary are increasingly willing to actively support him in the general election against Mr. Trump.On Wednesday, Ady Barkan, a prominent liberal activist and advocate for Medicare for all who supported Senator Elizabeth Warren and then Mr. Sanders in the primary, endorsed Mr. Biden, saying, “Even though he wasn’t our first choice, I don’t think that progressives and democratic socialists should sit out the election, or vote third party, and I wanted to make that clear.”Katie Glueck, Lisa Friedman and Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.

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