From health care to the economy: Where Trump and Biden stand

Compare President Trump's and Democratic nominee Joe Biden's policy positions.
Caroline Amenabar | NPR; CDC, Scott Andress, Mitchell Shaprio Photography, Wil Taylor, Joe Hall, Rey Perezoso, U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest, The U.S. Army | Flickr

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have very different views on how to tackle America's pressing issues.

That much is clear. But what specifically are they proposing?

NPR Politics has sifted through Trump's and Biden's plans, as released by their campaigns, and narrowed in on a few key issues to show what they're promising and how each man's priorities differ from his opponent's.

The Biden campaign has released an extensive set of policy proposals, prioritizing efforts to deal with the coronavirus, the economic recession and racial justice. The Democrat also has plans for major issues like climate, education, health care, criminal justice and immigration.

Biden came into the planned debates with a larger proposed agenda than Trump. And while incumbent presidents often run for reelection with fewer proposals compared with their opponent, Trump's campaign is noticeably light on policy.

The Trump campaign has released a bulleted list of second-term agenda items, hammering home similar messages heard in 2016. Trump has also set an ambitious goal of distributing a coronavirus vaccine by January 2021 — a timeline largely disputed by health experts.

The coronavirus pandemic

Joe Biden

  • Testing: Improve testing capacity and accessibility,

  • PPE: Expand access to personal protective equipment, or PPE.

  • Vaccine: Establish a plan for effectively producing and safely distributing a vaccine.

  • Race: Address disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on communities of color.

Biden's COVID-19 response plan advocates for increased use of federal funds to expand testing capability and access to PPE and to an eventual treatment and vaccine.

Unlike Trump, Biden wants to use the full authority of the Defense Production Act to create additional personal protective equipment, which includes masks and face shields. Biden's plan would also increase drive-by testing twofold and calls for the creation of at-home tests and instant tests. He would additionally allocate increased federal aid to state and local governments, schools and local businesses affected by the disease.

As for vaccine production, Biden would put $25 billion toward the manufacturing and distribution of an eventual vaccine. He does not explicitly call for a vaccine by a certain date.

Biden would also create a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, meant to address the communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, an initiative started by his running mate California Sen. Kamala Harris in the Senate. After the pandemic ends, the task force would morph into an Infectious Disease Racial Disparities Task Force. The plan also advocates for a return to Obama-era pandemic response procedures and calls for a repaired relationship with the World Health Organization, from which Trump withdrew in July. Biden pledges to rejoin on Day 1 as president.

Donald Trump

Trump's campaign has not released a full COVID-19 action plan for his second term, even after the president himself contracted the coronavirus.

His agenda for battling the virus centers on having a vaccine widely available by the end of the year. Health experts, including those in the federal government, say that timeline is highly unlikely. Trump has promised that during a second term, he will hold China "fully accountable" for the spread of the virus.

The White House has pledged to create 300 million doses of a vaccine by January 2021. The plan, published by the Department of Health and Human Services, outlines that "steps will proceed simultaneously" as government-funded companies continue with their research and trials of possible vaccines.

As a part of this effort to accelerate the process, the government is supporting the development of possible vaccine candidates before they've demonstrated effectiveness — so that once something is proven to work, distribution could happen more quickly.

Trump has also touted his own treatment and has vowed to make the drugs he had widely available, though it is unclear whether or when that could happen. The makers of his therapies have applied for emergency use authorization.

Trump has used some of his authority under the Defense Production Act, but critics argue that the federal government should have used the powers of that law more broadly to direct the production of needed medical supplies.

The White House has also tasked an interagency committee, led by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, with looking for ways the administration can address the pandemic's disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Economy

Joe Biden

  • Increase investments in American-made products and companies, pouring $400 billion into procurement and $300 billion into research and development, with the aim of creating 5 million new jobs.

  • Reverse Trump tax breaks to corporations and seek a higher minimum wage and expanded benefits for low- and middle-income workers.

The Democratic nominee's economic plans center on his Build Back Better framework, with planks on such areas as increasing domestic manufacturing and investing in clean energy.

Biden's "Made in America" plan stands as his economic nationalist alternative to Trump's "America First" policy. It would spend $400 billion in procurement, increasing the demand for American-made goods, as well as $300 billion in technological research and development. These investments would then go toward U.S. businesses that create products in fields including clean energy, cars, medicine, biotechnology, telecommunication and artificial intelligence.

The Biden campaign says the effort would generate 5 million jobs.

Biden also calls for the need to diversify the manufacturing and innovation industries by providing "historic investments" in communities of color as well as in cities and rural locations.

The Democratic nominee supports a $15 minimum wage, universal paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Biden also wants to do away with the Republican corporate tax cuts passed in 2017, vowing to increase the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. It's part of his $4 trillion tax package that his campaign says wouldn't directly raise taxes on people earning less than $400,000.

Donald Trump

  • Create 10 million jobs in 10 months, as well as 1 million small businesses.

  • Push American companies outsourcing jobs in China back to the United States to establish 1 million new domestic jobs.

Trump touts the country's pre-pandemic economy, saying he's the candidate to get it back out of its deep hole.

In a list of agenda items for a second term, released in August, Trump's campaign said his priorities include creating 10 million jobs in 10 months and creating 1 million small businesses.

He supports enacting additional tax cuts and the expansion of the "opportunity zones" tax break, though he gives no estimate of by how much.

Echoing goals set during his first campaign and term in office, Trump calls for tax credits to businesses making American products. And he says he will continue to enact "fair trade deals that protect American jobs" and cut back on business regulations.

As part of his agenda on China, Trump wants to establish 1 million domestic jobs that were previously based in China and offer tax breaks for businesses to move jobs out of China and back to the U.S., focusing specifically on pharmaceutical and robotics companies that currently outsource jobs.

There are no details about these plans, apart from their inclusion on the agenda list.

The White House says it will not give federal contracts to companies that continue to manufacture products in China. The president signed an executive order in August that incentivizes federal agencies to domestically source their jobs instead of outsourcing them. Trump has signed several executive orders aimed at boosting domestic production, but critics say that loopholes have allowed government agencies to circumvent these "made in America" provisions.

Racial equality

Joe Biden

  • Support minority-owned small businesses.

  • Increase homeownership among minority communities and combat housing discrimination.

  • Improve accessibility to affordable higher education and reduce student loan debt for minority students.

Biden has laid out a comprehensive plan to address racial disparities within the United States on issues ranging from health to policing, zeroing in on measures to advance economic equality, access to affordable housing, education and a fair criminal justice system.

Biden pledges to support minority-owned small businesses by allocating $30 billion — 10 percent of the $300 billion going toward research and development outlined in his jobs plan — specifically toward a Small Business Opportunity Fund, which would also leverage private investments. He also plans to invest $50 billion in venture capital specifically for Black and brown entrepreneurs, put $100 billion toward low-interest loans and provide educational and development opportunities for new entrepreneurs and students. Overall, he says, these investments through the fund will bring forward a gain of $150 billion.

Biden also advocates for reforming the current Opportunity Zone tax deferral passed under the Trump administration to help distressed communities, assigning the U.S. Department of Treasury to increase supervision over organizations receiving the benefit.

To boost homeownership within minority communities, Biden wants to create 1.5 million new homes and public housing units and provide up to $15,000 in tax credits for people buying their first homes. He also calls for an end to discriminatory housing policies, stressing the need to penalize financial institutions perpetuating such policies and outlining policies to strengthen renters' rights and provide more housing vouchers.

On education reform, Biden wants to expand student loan forgiveness and make public universities as well as private historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions tuition-free for students with household incomes under $125,000.

Donald Trump

  • Maintain low unemployment rates for Black Americans, as seen before the pandemic.

  • Strengthen minority-owned businesses.

Trump has not outlined a broad policy plan to address racial inequity. Trump has repeatedly questioned whether systemic racism is a problem in the United States. He argues that his policies have helped Black Americans, in particular, often citing record low Black unemployment before the pandemic hit. Trump says his economic policies will help bring unemployment back to those record lows.

On June 11, Trump spoke about a four-step policy geared toward building "safety and opportunity and dignity." He highlighted a need for increased federal support toward minority-owned small businesses and addressed "health care disparities," saying more funding should go toward medical facilities that serve largely nonwhite populations.

Trump has also called for expanding Opportunity Zones, a tax deferral for distressed communities passed as part of the 2017 tax bill.

Criminal justice

Joe Biden

  • Cut down on rates of incarceration.

  • Further government oversight of local police and prosecutors.

  • Increase the rights and resources for formerly incarcerated people.

Biden's criminal justice plan allocates $20 billion toward a grant program geared at promoting crime prevention among state and local governments through programs addressing factors like literacy and child abuse. It incentivizes states to enact programs to reduce incarceration through measures like eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crime. Biden supports the "immediate" implementation of the SAFE Justice Act, introduced by Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, which aligns with many of these policies.

If elected, Biden says, he will push the Justice Department to investigate police and prosecutors across the country for questionable actions and misconduct and will create a separate task force on prosecutorial discretion to combat discrimination. Biden would also call on the Justice Department to increasingly focus on prosecuting hate crimes. The plan advocates for an increase in federal funding toward public defenders' offices as well.

Biden does not support defunding the police. He has called for police reform and pledged to invest $300 million in programs that build community policing. He also supports establishing a national use of force standard.

On drug policing, Biden wants to stop differentiating between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize cannabis and legalize it for medicinal purposes. (He notably does not call for federal legalization of recreational cannabis, leaving that to the states.) Biden would also focus on reforming the juvenile justice system, putting $1 billion annually in reforms as well as bettering youth community programs to do away with the "school to prison pipeline."

Biden also argues for ending cash bail, the use of private prisons and the death penalty. His plan stresses the importance of supporting formerly incarcerated people by providing guaranteed housing upon finishing a sentence. He also supports increasing access to educational, medical and mental health resources for those currently or formerly incarcerated.

Donald Trump

  • Full support for increased police rights and protections.

  • Increase penalties for certain crimes.

  • End cashless bail.

When speaking about protests over racial justice and police brutality, Trump has focused on his support for law enforcement and highlighted violent altercations from protesters.

After weeks of protests over police brutality this summer, Trump signed an executive order that increased government grants for police departments that implement certain training regarding use of force and established a database that will track acts of police misconduct. Notably, the order does not completely ban the use of chokeholds by police. Instead, it restricts it "except in those situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law."

In 2018, Trump signed the First Step Act, which lowered prison sentences for certain nonviolent offenders. But, for his second term, Trump has called for increasing penalties for anyone who assaults a police officer. Trump is also calling for continuing to require people charged with crimes to pay bail or remain locked up until their trial. Criminal justice reform advocates have called for ending cash bail, arguing that it punishes poor people who have not been convicted of a crime.

Environment

Joe Biden

  • Combat climate change by pushing the United States on a path toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with an intermediate goal of ridding the power sector of carbon pollution by 2035.

  • Invest $2 trillion over four years in green areas, including infrastructure, transportation and auto industries, housing and construction practices, nature conservation efforts and work in environmental justice.

  • Create 1 million new jobs in the auto industry, boosting electric vehicles.

  • Build 1.5 million "sustainable homes."

To combat climate change, Biden's ambitious clean energy plan would pour $2 trillion into a set of research and development goals throughout his first term, with his principal objective being to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Biden wants to modernize American infrastructure, invest in clean energy and make climate-focused advances in both the auto and transportation industries to cut emissions and increase job opportunities. Notably, he says that his plan for the auto industry will create 1 million new jobs with the option to be part of a union.

Biden pledges to rid the power sector of carbon pollution by 2035. He also calls for energy upgrades to 4 million buildings, weatherizing 2 million homes across the country and building 1.5 million "sustainable homes and housing units."

Biden also specifically addresses environmental justice, pledging to allocate 40 percent of his clean energy plan's investments toward minority and lower-income communities more often affected by climate change and pollution. The plan would create a division within the Justice Department that would regulate and penalize corporations for their environmental effects on communities.

Biden would also seek to rejoin the Paris climate accords.

Donald Trump

  • Bolster the country's oil and gas industries, and the supply and production of those energy products.

  • Continue rolling back Democratic environmental regulations.

Trump says his priorities are clean water and air, but he's also sought to boost U.S. production of oil and natural gas — objectives that often work against each other.

The president has touted the country's record clean air, but that's part of a longer-term trend.

Trump has supported legislation that removes garbage from oceans, allocated additional funding for national parks and public lands, and put $38 billion toward "clean water infrastructure."

The president has denied the scientific consensus on climate change, and his administration has worked to scrub mentions of climate change from government websites and reversed many of the climate policies put in place during the Obama administration. Trump has attempted to push policies that back the coal industry, though that sector has continued to its longer-term decline.

He also pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris climate deal.

Health care

Joe Biden

  • Create a public option health care plan that expands off the Affordable Care Act.

  • Decrease the price of prescription drugs.

  • Protect abortion access.

  • Invest $775 billion in child and elder care.

Biden's health care plan centers around reinforcing and expanding the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — via a public option while also improving access to care.

The public option plan is described as available to all Americans, "whether you're covered through your employer, buying your insurance on your own, or going without coverage altogether," adding that the option is "like Medicare" — but is not Medicare.

The public option would be offered with no premiums to Americans who live in states that don't have access to Medicaid benefits that they would qualify for in other states.

Though not explicitly mentioned in his proposal, Biden has said that undocumented immigrants would be able to buy into the public option plan and receive unsubsidized coverage — an option currently not allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

In terms of lowering costs on the individual health insurance marketplace, his proposal would do away with the "income cap" — which currently stands at 400 percent of the federal poverty line — that enables eligibility to receive a tax credit to help pay for premiums. The plan also would ensure that no household is putting more than 8.5 percent of their earnings (instead of the current 9.86 percent) into health insurance plans.

Biden's proposal would work to lower prescription drug prices within Medicare, create an independent commission to oversee and regulate the price of new drugs, and get rid of the tax breaks given to pharmaceutical corporations on advertising.

On abortion access, Biden is in favor of restoring funding for Planned Parenthood. He does not support the so-called gag rule or the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortions. Biden backed the Hyde Amendment for a significant portion of his career and only came out against the legislation in July 2019, saying he could "no longer support an amendment that makes that right [to an abortion] dependent on someone's ZIP code."

Biden also wants to allocate $775 billion toward a plan for child and elder care. A lot of the funding would go toward cutting Medicaid waitlists for people needing home and community care, and to provide tax breaks to people who care for older family members.

Biden also pledges to invest in further health care employment, training 35,000 workers on how to aid Americans suffering from opioid addictions and adding "tens of thousands" of new jobs caring for veterans.

Biden also calls for the creation of a public health jobs corps, which would employ more than 100,000 Americans as health care workers in medically underserved communities to work in disease prevention.

Donald Trump

  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a new plan, which has not been publicly proposed.

  • Lower the price of prescription drugs and insurance premiums.

Among items on his second-term agenda bullet points, Trump wants to lower the prices of prescription drugs, lower insurance premiums and provide access to coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions.

Trump is against keeping the Affordable Care Act, but he hasn't proposed a detailed alternative. During an ABC town hall last month, Trump was unable to explain his campaign's proposed alternative other than saying the current law is "too expensive." He also did not outline a plan in the first presidential debate against Biden.

The Trump administration and several Republican-led states are arguing at the Supreme Court that the Affordable Care Act should now be void — an argument that would end existing protections for those with preexisting conditions.

Trump has attempted to usher through prescription drug reforms via a series of executive orders signed in July and September, though the timeline for seeing these policies implemented remains uncertain. A notable order would lower drug prices for those on Medicare parts B and D to comparable costs seen internationally.

He also pledged to send $200 drug cards to all Americans using Medicare in an effort to supplement the cost of prescription drugs — though health experts are skeptical of the plan's long-term benefits for lowering prices. Plus the White House's suggested process for paying for the plan remains uncertain.

Trump has also backed an end to surprise billing, which members of Congress have sought to take up.

Education

Joe Biden

  • Make public colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions tuition-free for families making less than $125,000.

  • Make two years of community college and training programs tuition-free.

  • Cancel $10,000 of every American's student debt and revise the current loan repayment system.

  • Establish universal prekindergarten.

Biden is advocating to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students with family incomes under $125,000. He links this proposal to the 2017 College for All Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

Biden also wants to extend the 2017 proposal to include private historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. The plan would allocate $70 billion toward those institutions to advance and expand facilities, educational and technological infrastructure and financial accessibility.

He also pledges to make community college and training programs tuition-free for two years of attendance. The plan would invest $50 billion in workforce training programs and $8 billion in upgrades to community college technology and facility infrastructure. He's additionally advocating for increasing the maximum value of Pell Grants by twofold.

On tackling federal student debt, Biden pledges to forgive student borrowers who graduate from public universities and private historically Black colleges and universities and make less than $125,000. In response to COVID-19, he's also calling for the cancellation of $10,000 of federal student loan debt for every American.

Biden wants to revise the current loan repayment system as well, pausing payments and interest for individuals with incomes under $25,000 and leveling payments for people making over that amount to 5 percent of their discretionary income. His plan outlines that the government will resolve Americans of their debt after two decades if they've "responsibly made payments through the program."

In his plan to support K-12 education, Biden calls for a greater focus on underfunded schools to reduce educational disparities. He wants to triple Title I funding to raise salaries for teachers who work at schools with primarily low-income student bodies. He also wants to increase the presence of mental health workers in schools, repair public school infrastructure and offer additional career resources and vocational training for middle and high school students.

As part of a $775 billion caregiving and education plan, Biden is notably advocating for universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds in a bid to improve education accessibility and lessen financial strains on parents. He also wants increased financial support for child care workers and facilities as well as financial incentives and educational resources for middle- to lower-income families paying for child care.

Donald Trump

  • Strengthen school choice policy and expand accessibility to charter schools.

  • Promote "patriotic education" curriculum in schools.

Trump's central education goal throughout his first term has been promoting school choice and increasing access to charter schools.

Trump is also advocating for what he calls "patriotic education" in schools. His campaign described this concept as teaching "American exceptionalism." The president recently announced that the National Endowment for the Humanities would be funding "pro-American curriculum," arguing that teaching the concept of systemic racism is "a form of child abuse."

In February, the White House rolled out a proposed 2021 budget that would make significant cuts and restrictions to federal student loan programs.

Immigration

Joe Biden

  • Do away with restrictions to immigration put in place during the Trump administration and stop construction of Trump's border wall.

  • Provide a "road map to citizenship" for people living in the United States illegally.

  • Expand resources to immigrants already residing in the United States.

Much of Biden's immigration plan centers around reversing a significant number of President Trump's current policies. This includes stopping construction on the border wall, fully eliminating the practice of separating immigrant families at the U.S. border and ending current bans on people from certain Muslim-majority countries traveling to the United States.

Biden also calls for a reversal of Trump's restrictions toward granting asylum and temporary protected status and instead wants to raise the cap on the number of refugees brought into the country to 125,000 per year.

Biden additionally has pledged to work to make the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, permanent on his first day as president.

His immigration plan notably pushes for further oversight, regulation and instruction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection, saying the agencies must "abide by professional standards" as well as be "held accountable for inhumane treatment," given a series of reported abuses.

As for new policy implementation, Biden says he will "modernize" the nation's immigration infrastructure, vowing, on Day 1, to send legislation to Congress that would offer a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country. He's also called for a moratorium on deportations during the first 100 days of his administration.

On obtaining visas, Biden says he wants to make both permanent and temporary work visas more accessible.

Biden is additionally proposing several initiatives through the federal government's Task Force on New Americans, aimed at supporting immigrants living in the United States. This task force would create local offices of immigrant affairs and informational hubs throughout the country that would provide resources on accessible health care and education systems as well as employment opportunities.

Donald Trump

  • Finish the border wall between the United States and Mexico.

  • Implement additional restrictions on immigration.

Trump's second-term agenda on immigration builds on the foundation he set in his first term, notably continuing construction of the border wall, restricting immigration and opposing so-called sanctuary cities, where local law enforcement has limited coordination with federal immigration officials.

His campaign singles out the need to end human trafficking and remove "non-citizen gang members" from the country but gives no plan or further explanation on those processes. His campaign has not released further details on any of these goals.

Recently in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Trump has tightened regulations on legal immigration and international work travel to the U.S. by limiting the distribution of visas, arguing it will help boost American employment. The U.S. has also taken steps to limit people successfully obtaining asylum.

National security

Joe Biden

  • Take "immediate steps" to restore alliances.

  • Reform the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.

  • Take a greater international role in fighting climate change.

Biden's foreign policy plan focuses on diplomacy, strengthening the U.S. international reputation and building on alliances that have been strained during the Trump administration.

The Democratic presidential nominee says he wants to mend international relationships with democratic nations across continents. If elected, Biden pledges to put together and lead a summit where world leaders would address ongoing issues of corruption, infringement on election security and human rights protections. The summit would also propose steps that big tech and social media companies could take to keep their platforms safe and accessible for users.

On the U.S. presence in the Middle East, Biden wants to pull "the vast majority" of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Biden also promises to cut off aid to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. He is also in favor of rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, contingent on Iran's cooperation.

Biden says he will cooperate with China in an attempt to denuclearize North Korea and he additionally will work with Russia to further international policy on arms control.

Biden pledges to rejoin the Paris climate accord "on Day 1." He also wants to put together a summit of countries with the largest carbon footprints and discuss further steps each country can take. Biden's plan notably singles out China for high pollution levels, stressing the need to work toward further regulation.

Donald Trump

  • Continue bringing American troops home from "endless wars." 

  • Combat international terrorism. 

Trump's second-term foreign policy agenda focuses on continuing to reduce the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere abroad. It calls for winding down "endless wars," a policy that the Trump campaign and Republican leaders say Trump has been successful at, though policy experts argue the situation in the region largely resembles that of 2016.

In February, the United States and the Taliban fostered a peace agreement that calls on the U.S. to remove its troops from the region over the next year, if the Taliban commits to ensuring Afghanistan does not become a base of operations for terrorist groups like Al Qaida or ISIS. Under the agreement, Afghanistan's government would release 5,000 members of the Taliban currently imprisoned and the Taliban would do the same with 1,000 Afghan security forces, though talks remain ongoing.

Trump said in early October he wants to draw U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan down by the end of 2020, to a level of 2,500, according to the White House.

Trump says his administration has eradicated "100 percent" of ISIS, following the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, though reports show the Islamic State group is continuing to mobilize and has carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria.

The campaign's second-term agenda also includes building a "cybersecurity defense system" and a "missile defense system" but gives no further information on how it would be done.

On relations with allies, Trump pledges to continue pushing countries that are part of NATO to increase their financial contributions, an argument he's held throughout his first term. Former senior national security officials say that the future of the country's involvement in NATO could be uncertain in Trump's second term. Trump has already moved ahead with plans to withdraw 12,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany, at least in part because he says Germany has not met NATO's target for each member nation to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.

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