Joe Biden Won’t Provide Serious Coronavirus Relief Without Being Forced by the Left

Joe Biden didn’t campaign on significant coronavirus relief measures despite the incredible pain felt across the country right now. It’s up to the Left to demand he pursue such measures in office, centered on three issues: addressing economic misery, expanding health care, and paying for it all by taxing the rich.

The only counterbalance to Biden’s inevitable rightward lean will be popular mobilization. (Manny Becerra / Unsplash)

When news outlets announced last weekend Joe Biden’s insurmountable lead in the Electoral College, much of the world responded with jubilation. But Biden, an avowed centrist, is not about to enact sweeping social reforms, or concede much of anything to the Left.

With the possibility of a Democratic majority in the senate hinging on runoff elections in Georgia, the Senate may end up Republican-controlled, which would further pull Biden to the right. Not that he needs much pulling, given his career as one of the key figures in the Democratic Party’s rightward turn.

The only counterbalance to Biden’s inevitable rightward lean will be popular mobilization. But you can’t organize and mobilize around abstract calls to “push Biden left” — the Left needs a concrete agenda.

The results of the 2020 presidential election suggest what that agenda should look like: a broad program in response to the coronavirus pandemic that focuses on providing serious economic relief to Americans, expanding the free health care provision in a way that can move us toward Medicare for All, and taxing the rich to pay for all of it.

What Happened November 3

Joe Biden centered his general election campaign on responding to the pandemic sweeping the nation and the world. There’s no doubt that the pandemic and its economic impact were top of mind for voters.

According to exit polling by Morning Consult, 93 percent of Biden voters rated “controlling COVID-19 spread” — the most of any issue — as “very important,” and COVID was in the top three issues for all voters in a CNBC exit poll.

But Trump has always excelled at translating working-class economic suffering into ruling-class political priorities. His ability to do so with immigration in 2016 infamously won him former Obama voters in Rust Belt states.

In 2020, Trump was able to build on those gains, particularly among non-college educated people of color, the demographic group that swung most toward Trump.

While downplaying the pandemic, Trump cynically pinned lockdowns on Democratic governors and associated the economic pain they caused to Democrats and Joe Biden. Trump was able to translate Biden’s calls to “listen to the scientists” as calls for “more lockdowns,” highlighting in many voters’ minds the devastating economic impact of such lockdowns without policies like monthly checks to make up for lost wages, for working-class voters.

According to the same Morning Consult poll, “economic recovery” and “lowering the unemployment rate” were among the top three issues for Trump voters, and “the economy” was the top issue for a third of voters in CNBC’s poll. The same poll showed that 52 percent of voters said controlling the pandemic was more important, even if it hurts the economy. This nearly matches the 50.8 percent popular vote that Biden won nationwide.

In other words, the divisive issue for this election was precisely the proper balance of economic hardship and pandemic response. It’s not hard to see how this dichotomy lost Biden working-class votes, given that, incredibly, Biden did not campaign on a robust economic response to the pandemic.

As Biden assembles his “COVID-19 task force” as a top priority in his transition plan, and with promises of vaccine distribution to vulnerable populations and essential workers as early as December, the virus is still raging at alarming rates across the United States and in Europe.

Based on how quickly the past two, smaller upsurges in cases dissipated, even if today were the peak of the pandemic, it will take at least two months for cases to decrease to the levels they were at on September 1. And it’s much more likely at the current rate that the peak is weeks away. That means Joe Biden will assume office with a higher infection rate than today’s, and after a grueling three months of economic and physical misery.

If the Republicans win the Senate, there’s little chance that Biden can or will negotiate a more expansive stimulus than what Congress passed last spring. And Republicans will ensure that any stimulus that comes will be paid, one way or another, by average people rather than through taxing the rich.

In fact, Republicans will be eager to maneuver so as to make sure the economic hardship of lockdowns and other pandemic-related spending is felt regressively — and pin it on Biden ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Economic Relief, Expanding Health Care Coverage, and Taxing the Rich

The election was a striking demonstration that most people view the pandemic response and economic recovery as diametrically opposed. We need to close the gap between these two by demanding that neither the pandemic response nor economic recovery come at the expense of the other.

Economic relief measures should:

  • Provide a means of continued subsistence for all workers, with no means testing — a pandemic universal basic income or “lockdown paid leave”
  • Shelter small businesses from impacts of shutting down shop during lockdowns
  • Offer relief for local governments to reverse cuts due to diminished sales tax revenue
  • Employment guarantees through a federal jobs program to replace jobs that have already been eliminated due to the lackluster economic response

We also need to keep pushing for universal health care, despite Biden’s continual statements that he does not support it. It may not be feasible to pass a Medicare for All bill federally anytime soon, but much could still be done to expand coverage, like granting waivers for state-level efforts and free medical care from military hospitals for example.

Treatments and vaccines must be free for all — especially for those who must have extended hospital stays or who have long-term conditions as a result of COVID infection.

Most urgently, coronavirus relief must:

  • Cover procedures deferred due to COVID
  • Eliminate co-pays or deductibles on any emergency or ICU care in addition to COVID treatment and vaccination
  • Create a large-scale contact tracing program, hiring 100,000+ more contact tracers
  • Place a moratorium on medical debt collection
  • Bring public health care systems fully under public control
  • Distribute vaccines through public assistance programs

The cost of the pandemic has thus far been shunted onto the working class, small business owners, and the urban poor. The rich, especially the billionaires and trillionaires at the head of companies like Amazon, who have made record profits during the pandemic, must pay for economic recovery and pandemic response.

  • Institute a federal income tax on corporate income of online businesses
  • Provide consumer and student debt relief
  • Keep prices on essentials low
  • Increase the federal minimum wage
  • Add billionaire and trillionaire tax tiers

The presidential election shows the vital need for a left program to address both the public health aspects of the pandemic and its economic impacts. Biden’s version of pandemic response, which promises to follow the advice of scientists, is better than Trump’s. But Biden’s response is bound to inflict economic hardship and suffering for millions — and Republicans will be eager to ensure that this is felt most acutely by the working class, then capitalize on electorally at the first chance they get.

But the Left has an opportunity to push a program with solutions to widely felt anxiety and suffering while at the same time pushing Biden and Congress left.