CLEVELAND – As Americans were forced inside and traditional campaigning has been turned on its head during a pandemic, what seemed like the most complex presidential race in recent memory has actually become quite simple.
It’s a coronavirus-dominated election. It’s the single biggest issue facing this country and, as it pertains to the election, has been covered extensively in just about every single outlet.
A couple of other big issues have broken through, as urgent calls for racial justice sounded around the country and a major controversy erupted over the appointment of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice.
But we haven’t heard as much about what happens on climate change if President Donald Trump is re-elected. And how will student loan debt be addressed if former Vice President Joe Biden wins?
While nobody has the gift of clairvoyance, the candidates’ past actions and current proposals give some guidance on issues of major importance to Ohioans that haven’t received the proper attention during the pandemic.
So, with the caveat that we don’t know which party is going to control Congress, which could significantly affect what gets done, here’s a look at what we can expect from Trump and Biden on these issues.
There is little to suggest that if Trump is re-elected that he or Republicans would address climate change in any significant way, mostly because he has expressed doubt that it exists.
Under Trump’s administration, the U.S. has significantly rolled back anything remotely related to climate change. One of his first acts in office was to announce that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, a multinational agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The U.S. is set to formally leave the agreement on Nov. 4, making it one of the only nations to be absent from the pact.
Other rollbacks Trump has made on climate change policy include weakening fuel economy standards for cars and trucks – including preventing California from setting its own greenhouse gas emission standards – lifting bans on oil drilling in national parks and blunting air quality standards.
Trump has also outright mocked any idea pertaining to renewable energy. One of his favorite targets is wind turbines, which he says are responsible for a significant number of bird deaths and drive property prices down. Both claims have been debunked by fact checkers.
The administration has tried to justify these measures by claiming carbon emissions are flat or down, which is not entirely true. Carbon emissions did decrease significantly in 2020 following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, largely because travel ground to a halt as people were sent home from work. They rebounded significantly upon states opening back up.
Trump has also assailed the Green New Deal – a massive climate change bill pushed by many liberal lawmakers – as too expensive and harmful for the country. Most of its provisions are nonstarters for Trump or Republicans, who are loath to place restrictions on big business.
If Biden wins the election, he has promised to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement, a virtual guarantee considering he can do it through executive action. It’s also a safe assumption that should Biden win and Democrats take back Congress, most of the environmental policies Trump has dismantled would be reinstated.
Biden’s relationship with the Green New Deal is somewhat complicated. He said he does not support it, though he views it as a crucial framework.
That is technically true, but only because of the expansive nature of the Green New Deal, which includes provisions such as universal health care and a jobs guarantee, both of which Biden does not support.
As to the actual climate provisions of the Green New Deal, Biden is generally in favor.
Most notably is Biden’s target of net-zero emissions for the country by 2050. That includes an emission-free power sector by 2035, one of the steepest challenges given U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.
That would come on the back of $2 trillion in spending over four years, most of it as part of a massive infrastructure drive to reduce emissions from the nation’s energy, travel and commercial sectors.
One of the areas where Trump has most significantly rolled back environmental protections is water. That includes stripping the Clean Water Act, a 1970s era law that created national clean water standards and put restrictions on polluting lakes, streams and rivers and protected certain wetlands.
Ohioans should be aware of the act, considering its passage came largely on the heels of a national uproar over the Cuyahoga River catching fire.
Trump hates that law, and it’s probably easy to understand why. Among the Clean Water Act’s chief opponents were golf course developers – a significant portion of Trump’s private business. Farmers and ranchers also generally opposed portions of the bill, due to restrictions on runoff.
That runoff is a serious problem for Lake Erie, which even Ohio Republicans – including Gov. Mike DeWine – call one of the state’s most valuable natural resources. Runoff from farms and factory production contributes to harmful algal blooms that pollute drinking water and choke wildlife.
While the effects of algal blooms never gained the media attention that a literal burning river did, Ohioans along the lake are plenty familiar with them. In 2014, residents of Toledo were ordered not to use tap water because it was unsafe.
The Clean Water Act isn’t the only significant Great Lakes protection Trump has attempted to undo during his first four years in office. Trump has proposed cutting Great Lakes cleanup funding by 90% since taking office, eventually settling for flat funding of $300 million after pushback from Great Lakes lawmakers.
Biden and the Democrats would look to restore those protections and increase funding for water cleanup.
At times, hydraulic fracturing – the process of extracting gas and oil from rock that is commonly known as “fracking” – has reared its head as a campaign issue, mostly in Ohio and Pennsylvania due to the importance of the industry to those states’ economies.
Fracking has increased under Trump – especially on federal land – and there’s every indication that it will continue to expand should he get re-elected. He has consistently aligned himself with energy companies during his first four years in office.
Trump has tried to falsely accuse Biden of wanting to end all fracking in the United States. Biden’s plan would only end new fracking on federal lands, which would mean little for Ohio as only 1.2% of the state’s acreage is federally owned.
One of the keystones of Biden’s climate change plan is a massive push to increase U.S. manufacturing of electric vehicles, largely through government incentives for production and rebates for consumers.
Trump has also said he supports electric vehicles, often citing the opening of Lordstown Motors, a startup that manufactures EV trucks on the former site of the General Motors Lordstown assembly plant. Amid the yelling in the generally unhelpful first presidential debate in Cleveland, Trump took credit for giving incentives for electric vehicles.
This is a mixed truth at best. Trump has tried to cut a $7,500 tax credit to individuals for purchasing electric vehicles. During GM’s move to close Lordstown and other production facilities, he threatened to end EV incentives for the company.
Federal K-12 education policy is fairly limited since most schooling choices are made at the state level. However, the one area where the federal government has significant control over schooling is through funding.
One of Trump’s longest serving Cabinet members is Betsy DeVos, the divisive secretary of education who is a firm believer in private schools. Trump, DeVos and Republicans have generally tried to reduce funding to public schools, instead shifting it to private institutions.
Even the coronavirus hasn’t changed that. DeVos funneled millions of dollars in CARES Act money to private schools and ordered school districts to share funds meant for public schools with private ones.
Trump has proposed cuts to the Department of Education every year since he’s been in office. He’s also proposed shifting more funding to block grants, essentially allowing states to do with education funding what they wish. In practice, this diverts money from public education since states can spend their money on voucher programs instead of funding public education.
Those trends are almost guaranteed to continue if Trump is re-elected. A significant portion of the Republican National Convention focused on promoting private schools and the ultimate goal of Trump, DeVos and Republicans is a national shift toward a voucher program. It’s part of a strategy to increasingly privatize education in America, with Republicans feeling the private sector is better suited to address student needs better on an individual basis.
Biden and the Democrats, conversely, have proposed increasing funding for public education. The signature proposal of Biden’s K-12 plan is tripling Title I funding – dollars that go to public schools where 40% of students come from low-income households. Biden has said this is the best route to decrease the funding gap between poor and wealthy school districts.
Much of that funding would go to teacher raises to attract high-quality candidates and purchasing better resources for struggling public schools. He is also proposing doubling the number of school psychologists in the country to better address juvenile mental health and universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Biden opposes any federal funding going to for-profit charter schools.
The reality of the situation is probably a bit more mixed for Biden. While the base of the Democratic Party – particularly teachers unions – don’t like charter schools, the fact of the matter is a lot of Americans do. That includes minority and suburban voters, both a key constituency for Democrats for the foreseeable future. Abandoning charter schools wholesale could especially turn off swing voters who may have felt they took a risk backing Democratic candidates. The politics just aren’t there.
Biden may be able to secure his funding increases for Title I, pre-K and mental health professionals. However, Republicans may be able to frame those increases as reckless spending, or even demand commensurate increases for vouchers and charter schools.
One area where there may be common ground for both Biden and Trump, however, is career and technical education. Both support increasing funding to the trades. Trump proposed doubling career and technical education in February before the pandemic upended everything. Biden has supported expanding career and technical education by providing free community college for all.
The 2022 Senate elections include states with heavy industrial influence such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. All but Illinois are held by Republicans, meaning they may be inclined to support an increase to trades.
Trump has generally tried to cut funding for higher education since being in office, another sign of DeVos’ influence on the administration. His 2020 budget included a nearly 8% cut to public research universities.
Trump and DeVos deferred student loan payments for the remainder of 2020 after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The extra cash in young, working people’s hands has likely played a part in helping the economy rebound as much as it has. However, there’s no indication that Trump or DeVos would actually move to forgive federal student loans in any significant way. In fact, there is ample evidence that they would try to strap students with more debt for longer.
Trump has tried stamping out programs that forgive federal student loan debt and diverting Pell Grant money to other departments. DeVos also revoked a rule that cut federal funding to for-profit schools that consistently saddled students with high amounts of debt.
Trump has supported some increased funding to education. That includes the proposed increase to career and technical education. And his administration did eliminate some red tape for student loan borrowers by allowing the Department of Education to collect some information from the IRS, simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form.
The higher education policy most often promoted by Trump is his signing a bill to restore $250 million per year in funding to historically black colleges and universities. The funding lapsed on Trump’s watch after Congress failed to reach a deal on a higher education bill, though it was included in a bipartisan deal reached later the same year. HBCUs are guaranteed the funding for the next 10 years.
Trump’s focus has largely been on the cultural conflict at universities. College students tend to skew liberal and overwhelmingly oppose Trump.
Given the Black Lives Matters protests that happened this year and Trump trying to run on opposing “cancel culture,” the attacks on universities as institutions are guaranteed to continue. It fits in neatly with Trump’s brand of opposing “elites” – which many view as encompassing college-educated people.
It is probably safe to assume that the Department of Education will target universities for anything that appears “too liberal.” The administration already launched a probe into Princeton University over its push to combat systemic racism and one into UCLA over free speech.
That culture war won’t end even if Trump loses, but it will be amplified if he wins, especially with the unlikely prospect of any policy wins coming from Congress.
Biden’s goals for higher education are, like his K-12 proposals, quite lofty.
The backbone of his higher ed plan is making community college and four-year public universities tuition free for students from families making less than $125,000 a year. That plan would also be extended to HBCUs. He also proposes doubling the value of Pell grants and limiting student loan repayment to 5% of individuals’ discretionary spending. Those making less than $25,000 a year would not have to repay their loans. All remaining balances on loans would be forgiven after 20 years.
Biden also proposes eliminating $10,000 of existing federal student loan debt for everyone who still owes. Graduates from a 2- or 4- year public college and university with existing loans would also have their loans eliminated if they make less than $125,000 a year.
These plans are likely to not appeal to conservatives. However, with a tanked economy that is only slowly recovering and a growing population increasingly hindered by student loan payments, there’s a good possibility it would receive public support as a kind of quasi-stimulus package.
Trump and Republicans in Congress have made it patently clear that they want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act at all costs. Right now, Trump is supporting a lawsuit seeking to find the ACA – more commonly known as Obamacare – unconstitutional after the GOP-controlled Congress zeroed out the individual mandate – the penalty for not having health insurance that kept the ACA on the books in the Supreme Court.
“I hope they end it,” Trump said in a 60 Minutes interview scheduled to run Sunday, but leaked early by the president.
It’s worth noting that a third of the Supreme Court will be Trump appointees who were vetted by conservative groups on how they might rule on Obamacare as a chief priority.
The suit, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would also overturn the most popular parts of Obamacare, including prohibiting companies from charging people with pre-existing conditions more for coverage and the expansion of Medicaid – the program that covers the poor and disabled.
The fact of the matter is the American health care system runs through Obamacare right now and the options moving forward under either candidate hinge on what the Supreme Court decides.
If Obamacare is upheld by the court, the outcomes are pretty straightforward for each candidate. Trump would continue to assail Obama’s landmark legislation and undermine it at any chance he gets.
If Biden wins and the Senate flips, a public option is a virtual lock. The plan would allow people without private health care to buy into a public program like Medicare – though not Medicare itself. The Medicare age itself would probably also be lowered to at least 60, and maybe as low as 55. If the Senate doesn’t flip, health care probably becomes the top issue in the midterm elections as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will almost certainly not accept any legislation that expands the program.
If the court overturns Obamacare, the situation becomes far more chaotic.
The public marketplace would be dismantled, matching federal funds for Medicaid would be upended and people with pre-existing conditions could be charged more for coverage. The result would be around 21 million people losing their coverage.
Trump and Republicans do not have a realistic alternative to Obamacare and will likely scramble to come up with something while also dealing with a still struggling economy and the coronavirus. Despite promising to protect people with pre-existing conditions and saying he has a plan for health care, Trump has not presented one. Any plan by the Senate Republicans is almost guaranteed to be opposed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Even if there were some kind of “compromise” plan, Obamacare being overturned would expose the fragile and precarious nature of health care policy in the United States. More than half of Americans already support a national health care plan, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, and that number would probably grow if people are booted from their coverage. With increased political capital, Democrats would probably insist on a single-payer system.
The situation doesn’t change much in the event Biden wins. Obamacare, while relatively popular, would be exposed as extremely breakable, so reinstating it with the individual mandate increased is a risky bet both practically and politically. Single-payer health care probably becomes the most viable political option. Biden has said he does not support single-payer health care, but he may end up out of alternatives.
If Biden wins, the Senate remains in Republican control and Obamacare is overturned, the resulting scenario is a high-stakes game of chicken between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans have already staked their position as wanting to dismantle Obamacare.
Trump’s signature piece of legislation since taking office is the tax cut passed in 2017. The law broadly cut taxes for most Americans, including doubling the standard deduction. However, wealthier individuals reaped greater rewards from the tax break than the working class.
The tax cut has led to the U.S. budget deficit significantly inflating. Since Trump took office, the deficit has ballooned from $665 billion in 2017 to more than $1 trillion.
Trump and the Republicans have proposed cutting taxes as a primary method for rebounding from the recession. Those tax cut discussions will take the place over any stimulus discussions if he wins again, this time with payroll tax cuts targeting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Biden has said that he will reverse the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals in the country, with only individuals making more than $400,000 seeing a tax increase.
If Democrats have control of Congress, there’s a high likelihood that Biden’s tax plan is implemented. But it won’t be without a brawl from Republicans framing it as a job-killing measure.
Trump’s record on jobs largely depends on how it’s framed. He and the campaign tout their job figures before the pandemic. Looking at jobs figures in Ohio from the time Trump took office to February 2020, that amounted to 82,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That included 7,800 manufacturing jobs.
A look at Trump’s entire presidency yields far bleaker results. The state has hemorrhaged 329,000 jobs, including 24,000 manufacturing jobs.
Whichever figures you decide to use, they are still far below the Obama administration’s final term in office when the state gained around 286,000 jobs, including more than 26,000 manufacturing jobs.
Trump and the Republicans have indicated they want to cut taxes as their main means of getting the economy back on track. Payroll tax cuts are a nonstarter for Democrats in the House, but Trump’s proposed “Made in America” tax credits have potential in a split Congress, depending on what they actually look like.
Trump has not released any kind of detailed jobs plan and instead lists goals he wants to achieve, such as creating 10 million new jobs in 10 months.
Biden’s jobs plan culls from several other planks in his platform, a sort of catch-all for a campaign focused on jobs. Most of the plan includes investment, such as his environmental policy to upgrade energy infrastructure and increase manufacturing of American made EVs.
Biden proposes a significant spending package to achieve some of these goals, including $400 billion on procurement to increase demand for American goods and $300 billion on technological research and development. The research funding would be specifically allocated for creating jobs in advanced materials, health and medicine, biotechnology, clean energy, autos, aerospace, artificial intelligence and telecommunications.
Part of Biden’s infrastructure goals include building up broadband internet access nationwide, opening up telecommuting jobs to more rural areas across the country.
Anything that pushes funding toward American made products has a decent chance of survival in Congress, regardless of who controls it, though it is much less likely if Republicans control the Senate as they won’t want to give Biden and the Democrats a win.
Broadband investment also has potential with record number of people working from home – a trend that probably continues post-pandemic – but it may end up low on the priority list considering the lack of immediate political gains. The same holds true for research and development, probably a healthy long-term decision for the country, but one without an immediate effect.
Among Biden’s more unlikely of promises to be kept is his proposal for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and universal paid sick leave. A Democratic trifecta may take this up, but Republicans will undoubtedly frame the proposals as job-killing measures.
Even in the event of a landslide, Biden and the Democrats may not have the political capital to pass those proposals with the economy still in shambles.
Trump has routinely taken swipes at affordable housing since coming into office. He has increasingly tried to reduce government involvement in the housing market, including access to affordable housing.
That includes attempting to strip affordable housing goals and reducing government assistance to low-income borrowers.
Trump has also proposed removing federal rules to reduce redlining – the practice of racially segregating homebuyers. In July, he proposed rescinding the Obama-era rule that required municipalities to collect data on discrimination and adopt a corrective plan, reporting the results to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Trump described the rule as federal overreach, but in practice it was more of a campaign move toward white grievance politics, with Trump tweeting shortly after the announcement that anti-discrimination rules have had a “devastating impact on these once thriving Suburban areas.” That said, the political move would have real-world effects if it is allowed to go forth and could contribute to further segregation of communities.
Biden has a surprisingly detailed plan for housing, considering how little attention the issue has gotten throughout the course of the election. The backbone of it is expanding rental assistance – Section 8 housing payments – to every family who qualifies for it. Paired with renters’ tax credits, the goal is to have nobody pay more than 30% of their income toward rental housing. In theory, this leaves more capital to save for home ownership.
Along with the rental credit, Biden is also proposing a $15,000 tax credit for a first-time down payment.
Other provisions proposed by Biden include regulations preventing foreclosures and evictions in certain instances and adopting a “homeowner bill of rights,” modeled after California legislation that restricts predatory lending and forces direct contact between banks and lenders throughout the application, ownership and – if necessary – foreclosure process.
It’s hard to envision Democrats not getting behind these policies wholesale if they have control of Congress and the White House, along with reinstating the Obama-era rules nixed by Trump. It probably would be an easy sell to the public as well, especially millennials entering their 30s who may be finally considering home ownership.
The prospect is less likely with Republicans controlling the Senate, but portions such as the tax credits could be feasible under some kind of bargain.
One of Trump’s main promises during the 2016 election was that he was going to rebuild the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure.”
In hindsight, it should have been one of his more attainable goals. Infrastructure upgrades are popular with both sides of the aisle. Upgrading internet speeds nationwide could have been an easy-to-sell public works project. It creates jobs and people need higher speeds both for work and play.
Nothing ever came of Trump’s grand infrastructure promises, however. The notion of Trump speaking at length at all about infrastructure has become a political meme – “infrastructure week” – given Trump’s penchant for not being able to stay on topic and generally turning all of his speeches into campaign stops.
That’s not to say the administration hasn’t put forth a plan. It has. In fact, a couple. The most notable was Trump’s promise of $1.5 trillion in spending.
In actuality, the plan only called for about $200 billion in federal spending. The other $1.3 trillion in spending would come from private investment spurred on by the federal cash, though many analysts were skeptical the plan would even produce a matching $200 billion. It was basically dead on arrival in Congress, even before Democrats took over the House.
This year as the pandemic hit, the Trump administration tried again, this time by pushing for $1 trillion in spending over 10 years for surface paving by reauthorizing the $305 billion-a-year FAST Act, which was set to expire on Sept. 30. This is not new spending, though it was re-upped for one year as part of a continuing resolution on the budget.
Trump is without a doubt the most divisive president in decades, but infrastructure is the one area where he could feasibly score a victory in a second term. The question is whether he will devote any significant energy to trying to get it through Congress.
But even with a Republican lock on Washington in his first two years of office, he couldn’t gin up enough support to score what would have been an easy campaign victory. It seems unlikely he would propose anything that doesn’t include the majority of funding coming from the private sector, which Democrats won’t budge on.
Under Trump, it seems like “infrastructure week” is bound to continue forever.
Biden has also proposed $1.3 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next 10 years, much of it as part of his other platforms such as updating the energy grid and expanding broadband access.
Another $50 billion would go toward highway improvement and $10 billion would go toward building more transportation routes in high-poverty areas to expand access to jobs.
He has also proposed significant investment in high-speed rail systems that would connect the coasts, a kind of modern-day transcontinental railroad. Yearly grants totaling $1 billion would also be available for cities for smaller projects like increasing electric charging stations for cars and scooters.
If Democrats do sweep the elections this time around, they’d be smart to focus heavily on infrastructure. It checks all the boxes politically by creating high-paying jobs for working-class people. Voters like upgraded infrastructure. It’s just a matter of where on the priority list infrastructure falls with the pandemic and recession ongoing, though it’s feasible to think it could be sold to the public as a stimulus bill to get out of the recession.
Even if Republicans keep the Senate, a smaller infrastructure package is doable. Politicians always like showing that they’ve brought money home to their states. Senators in competitive races will want to show off the hefty bill of goods they brought back in time for the 2022 election.
Trump has taken up significant criminal justice reforms. The First Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, reduced some mandatory minimum sentences, relaxing the “three strikes rule” – a lifetime sentence for three or more federal convictions – and expanded inmate rehabilitation programs. The ultimate goal was to decrease mass incarceration at federal prisons and reduce recidivism.
The bill’s passage has been one of Trump’s main campaign points as he courts Black voters. Black people are incarcerated in federal prisons at nearly six times the rate of white people, according to the Pew Research Foundation.
More than 4,500 offenders were either released or had their sentences reduced because of the law and 16,000 inmates entered drug rehabilitation programs, per the Department of Justice.
However, Trump has also resisted almost all calls for policing reforms, including use of force. He’s demanded protesters be locked up and demanded anyone who topples a Confederate monument receive 10 years in prison. He is also a longtime supporter of the death penalty, most notably against the wrongfully convicted Central Park 5.
Gaming out a second term of Trump regarding criminal justice reform is somewhat difficult. His first-term reforms were significant and a rare case of bipartisanship in the past four years. High-level staffers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, have Trump’s ear on criminal justice reform and there’s a building consensus that mass incarceration needs more attention.
The protests and riots from the summer caused Trump to dig in on policing issues, trying to frame himself as a “law and order” candidate. Trying to maintain that police support does not necessarily prevent Trump from taking action on further reforms, though. In fact, another significant criminal justice bill would be a possible success for him to build a legacy on – and one that can gain bipartisan support in a divided Congress.
Biden’s history on criminal justice has been a significant issue during the election, especially his ushering through the 1994 crime bill that increased mandatory minimums and directly led to increased imprisonment of people of color.
However, he has pushed for reducing the incarceration rate and providing more resources to formerly incarcerated people. That includes the “immediate passage” of the SAFE Justice Act, a bill that further restricts mandatory minimum drug sentences to management of drug dealing organizations, expands release for older and ill offenders and expands probation and drug courts.
Biden also supports ending cash bail and banning private prisons and supports ending the death penalty.
Politically speaking, Biden probably has to push for significant criminal justice reform regardless of who takes the Senate. His past proposals directly led to mass incarceration in the country and the Democratic Party relies on people of color as a significant portion of its base.
There is also some legitimacy to the argument from Trump that the Democratic Party has largely taken the support of communities of color for granted, considering how important they are to Democrats’ success. However, Republicans have been equally as giddy about tough on crime measures over the past 50 years (such as using the War on Drugs to target Black communities starting under President Ronald Reagan).
A Republican Senate makes passage of any criminal justice reform much less likely, not out of any policy concerns, though. Criminal justice is one of Biden’s weakest points and McConnell would likely refuse to give him anything remotely close to a win on it, hoping to damage Democrats enough to retake control of Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
Trump has often denigrated drug addicts, though his administration has provided more than $1 billion to states to combat the opioid crisis.
The U.S. Justice Department also pursued criminal charges against Purdue Pharmaceuticals for their involvement in creating the epidemic by pushing OxyContin on the public. Purdue agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges as part of an $8 billion settlement. Multiple civil lawsuits are ongoing with Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies.
Trump also signed the SUPPORT Act into law in 2018, which directed funds to the federal government and states to combat abuse, placed restrictions on over prescription of opioids and provided training for law enforcement on intercepting shipments of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Notably, the bill did not significantly expand drug treatment, which some said lessened the law’s effect on addressing the crisis.
Opioid overdoses have increased since the onset of the pandemic, one of the main reasons Trump gives for demanding an end to coronavirus mitigation efforts.
Trump has generally been opposed to any other kind of drug reform, with actions including having the Justice Department meddle in states that have legalized cannabis, launching antitrust investigations into growers and dispensaries at a time when the industry is still in its infancy. He has also called for the death penalty for drug dealers and praised dictators in other countries who carry out executions.
Aside from a possible attempt to address mandatory minimum federal sentences, it’s unlikely that any significant drug policy will be undertaken in Trump’s second term. The Justice Department will probably continue to meddle in states with legal cannabis. Funding for opioid addiction and treatment would likely increase if overdoses don’t taper off post-pandemic.
Biden’s former tough-on-crime approach during his Senate days in the ’80s and ’90s may have been a significant reason for the current situation involving both the opioid epidemic and mass incarceration today, with a focus on punishment instead of treatment.
He now calls for no prison time for drug use alone, instead preferring expanding drug courts and treatment options. He also favors ending the disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine in federal sentencing.
Biden said during the primary that marijuana “has to be, basically, legalized,” though the campaign clarified that Biden only supports decriminalization for possession and wants to leave legalization up to the states. He also backs moving cannabis from Schedule I – the most restrictive drug classification indicating no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse – to Schedule II – in line with cocaine and fentanyl, which the government accepts as having medical uses but maintains the possibility for a high level of abuse.
As part of his call for criminal justice reform, Biden has pushed for releasing those incarcerated for marijuana offenses and expunging their records.
Pro-marijuana activists have been less than thrilled with Biden’s stance on marijuana, with many noting that people still go to prison for possessing cocaine and fentanyl.
Biden may not have a choice on the matter, though, as marijuana legalization is not just a Democratic base issue anymore. Two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. Eleven states and the District of Columbia – totaling more than 93 million people – have legalized recreational weed. Another five are voting on it this November.
Grassroots pressure from a Democratic win might force Biden’s hand, especially as marijuana becomes big business, but still operates in a quasi-legal cash-only model without access to banks or lines of credit. Not legalizing marijuana risks significant blowback among younger voters, who may not be inclined to support the party in the midterms if they feel they expended massive amounts of energy to take both chambers of Congress and the White House and can’t even toke up at the end of the day.
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