Images via Shutterstock Donald Trump, Joe Biden
Images via Shutterstock

Trump’s second-term agenda features vague commitments with no actual policy details. 

With just over two months to go until Pennsylvania plays a pivotal role in deciding the November election, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign finally released a list of “core priorities” the president says he would tackle if elected to a second term. 

The list of priorities includes 50 bullet points with vague statements, like lowering drug prescription prices or establishing a manned presence on Mars, but presents no details on how those goals might be achieved.

Trump’s “agenda” was released shortly after the Republican Party announced that it will not adopt a policy platform this year, as they have done in the past before national conventions. Instead, they voted to “enthusiastically support” Trump’s “America-first” agenda and also “reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden administration.”  

The Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, meanwhile, has introduced a raft of policy proposals that could benefit Pennsylvanians.

Here’s where both candidates stand on six important issues:

Health Care

Trump and GOP attorneys governor sue to overturn the Affordable Care Act while Biden wants to protect pre-existing condition coverage for Americans.

Trump may say he wants to “cover” pre-existing conditions, but he and the GOP have repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 healthcare law which prevents health insurance companies from refusing to provide coverage for the up to 133 million Americans living with pre-existing conditions

In fact, the Trump administration is currently backing a lawsuit from a coalition of 18 Republican-led states that are suing to repeal the ACA. The case is set to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, and the stakes could not be higher. If the ACA is repealed, more than 850,000 Pennsylvanians would lose their health insurance amid a global pandemic and another 5 million could once again be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

Trump said last month that he would introduce a health plan to replace the ACA, but has set forth no such plan. 

In contrast, Biden plans to expand the ACA if elected and also wants to provide a Medicare-like public option for people who lack health insurance or want a more affordable option.

Climate 

As Trump rolls back regulations on air and water pollution, Biden sees a huge opportunity in green jobs and 100% clean energy.

The Trump campaign has no specific focus on fighting climate change, even as extreme weather events continue to pummel the United States and fossil fuel production has been shown to pollute Pennsylvania’s state’s air and water and sicken the state’s children.

The Trump campaign claims it wants to lead the world in access to clean water and clean air, but the president supports fossil fuel production, a major source of pollution, and has rolled back dozens of regulations to protect air and water quality. In total, the Trump administration has rolled back 68 environmental rules, with another 32 changes still in progress, according to the New York Times

Biden has taken a dramatically different approach, proposing a $2 trillion climate plan to reach a 100% clean energy economy by 2050 and produce millions of jobs, including many in Pennsylvania. In fact, clean energy jobs are already on the rise in Pennsylvania. In 2019, there were 90,772 clean energy jobs across the state, which is more than twice the number of workers employed in the fossil fuel industry, according to a 2019 report from E2, a national nonpartisan business group.

Biden’s plan also focuses on building resilient buildings and roads, and shoring up access to clean water, which could make it easier for individuals to live more sustainably and mitigate the effects of strong storms. Finally, Biden has promised to support environmental justice efforts to address air pollution that disproportionately affect communities of color—like those in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—and engage those communities in discussions about possible solutions.

Jobs and Taxes

Biden is focused on supporting working class and clean energy jobs, while Trump’s tax cuts fell 95% short of economic growth goals.

Trump’s first term included one of the largest corporate tax cuts in American history. The president claimed that his tax cuts would help middle-class Americans, but a study from the Congressional Research Service found that it funneled money to the rich. That held true in Pennsylvania too, where the top 1% earned a tax cut of nearly $50,000 per year, while the poorest 20% received cuts of only $80 on average, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The next 40% of income earners didn’t fare much better, getting $770 or less on average in cuts.

More recently, Trump tried to unilaterally delay collecting payroll taxes as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. But that plan doesn’t help the 886,000 Pennsylvanians who are unemployed, and could also threaten the long-term security of Social Security and Medicare, which are both funded by payroll taxes. 

Biden has not introduced a formal tax plan yet, but he has previously proposed

  • raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%; 
  • creating a minimum tax of 15% on companies like Amazon and the Allentown-based PPL Corp. that earn $100 million or more in annual net income but pay no federal income taxes; 
  • restoring the top individual tax rate from 37 to 39.6%, tax capital gains as ordinary income and at death for the highest earners; and
  • subjecting wages above $400,000 to the Social Security payroll tax, among other efforts. 

The former vice president’s plan would not raise taxes on the bottom 95% of Americans, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Budget Model. But due to his efforts to increase taxes on the rich and corporations, Biden’s plan would raise between $3.35 trillion and $3.67 trillion over a decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Much of those savings would then go toward his plans to fight climate change, expand health care, and improve the nation’s infrastructure. 

COVID-19

To truly return to normal, Biden and Democrats will follow science, while Trump has repeatedly flouted medical facts.

Wedged into Trump’s secon- term agenda is a promise to “return to normal” next year, a statement that has been contradicted by public health experts who have made clear the virus will be with us for years in some capacity and that normal is a long way off.

Still, the campaign’s agenda mirrors the president’s oft-repeated and ill-advised declarations that the virus will one day simply disappear. Perhaps believing that to be the case, Trump downplayed and mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic for months, overseeing what has been arguably the worst coronavirus response in the developed world. 

Over the past six months, the Trump administration has:

  • decided against a national testing strategy, leading to testing shortages in states like Pennsylvania;
  • passed the buck on testing and obtaining PPE and other medical equipment to the states, leading to supply shortages;
  • interfered with states’ efforts to obtain supplies and tests, and in some cases, seized them altogether;
  • ignored public health experts’ advice on lifting restrictions too early;
  • encouraged states to reopen early, leading to thousands of new cases and deaths.

As a result, the United States, with 4% of the global population, makes up 24% of the world’s cases and 22% of its deaths from COVID-19. 

Biden has been laser focused on Trump’s failures, repeatedly criticizing his leadership during the pandemic. Unlike Trump, he has also proposed a detailed plan to combat the virus by listening to doctors and scientists, making testing free and widely available, providing more PPE to medical workers, and spearheading a whole-of-government response to ensure the creation and distribution of an effective vaccine. 

Veterans and the Military 

While Trump talks about caring for veterans and the military, his policies haven’t helped. Biden’s platform provides mental health care funding for vets.

Trump’s plan offers no detail about how he would help Pennsylvania’s 800,000-plus veterans, many of whom face severe mental and physical health issues, experience homelessness, and commit suicide at staggering rates. Trump claimed last year that his administration’s efforts have reduced the number of veteran suicides nationwide, but an Associated Press fact check found that there has been no decline in the number of veterans taking their lives each day, which Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates is around 22 veterans per day.

Instead of offering tangible solutions for these problems, Trump’s agenda focuses on an ‘America First Foreign Policy’ that will ‘Maintain and Expand America’s Unrivaled Military Strength.’

Only, many veterans believe Trump’s leadership has actually harmed America’s standing in the world and made it harder for service members abroad to do their jobs. They specifically cited Trump’s recent admission that he never confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin over intelligence reports finding that Russia offered the Taliban bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan as being deeply troubling. Veterans also criticized Trump’s threat to send military personnel to crack down on protesters in American cities. 

Some veterans are now throwing their support behind Biden, who has pledged to improve veteran health care; eliminate homelessness and reduce suicide rates; create employment and educational opportunities; and improve the VA’s management and accountability. He has also said he would make sure to pay service members a competitive wage and provide additional resources to military spouses, caregivers, and survivors. 

Gun Violence

A majority of Americans want gun control and Democrats want to provide it. Trump’s platform doesn’t even address the issue.

A majority of Americans want stronger gun safety laws, but the Trump campaign makes no mention of ways to prevent gun violence. The president previously vowed he would address gun violence after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty in a 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but Trump failed to live up to that promise.

The former vice president has repeatedly called for stronger gun safety laws and said he will hold gun manufacturers accountable, regulate the possession of existing assault weapons, ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and require background checks for all gun sales.

Those efforts could save lives in Pennsylvania, where nearly 15,000 people were killed with guns between 2008 and 2017, according to data from the Center for American Progress. The state’s gun laws are relatively lax—earning a C+ from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence—and currently do not ban assault weapons or mandate universal background checks for long guns.