Former Vice President Joe Biden has been widely touted as the leading centrist candidate among the field of Democratic presidential candidates during this election cycle.
Whether the policy proposals put forth by Biden during a visit to Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday will be received as centrist by the state’s voters remains to be seen.
The longtime senator from Delaware who left Congress to serve as the running mate to Barack Obama in 2008 returned to his roots with the Scranton trip, expounding at length on his family’s ties to the area. He told anecdotes about his mother’s propensity to call herself a Scranton native decades after the family left the area and sought to emphasize his own middle-class roots in coming from the medium-sized city in the Northeast portion of the state.
Biden also argued that incumbent President Donald Trump has left the middle class behind in a swing state that helped drive his electoral victory in 2016. The president was due to speak later Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
“We don’t deserve a president who goes out of his way to make life in America harder, crueler, pettier,” Biden said. “He said he’s working for the forgotten American. But he forgot about the forgotten American. The American middle class brings dignity, integrity every day to work. They deserve the dignity and integrity reflected in their leaders.”
Among Biden’s policy proposals were plans to return the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, free community college for every American, and a public option resembling Medicare for health insurance.
“And you say, ‘Well, there goes that big spending Democrat,’ right?” Biden said. “Well, guess what? It costs $6 billion a year to send every qualified person who’s going from high school to community college or having to be retrained, going back to community college because they lost a job because of digitalization and Moore’s law and artificial intelligence.”
To pay for the community college program, Biden suggested ending what he called a loophole in the tax code that he said waives the capital gains tax in cases where a taxpayer dies and the money that would have been subject to the tax goes to the taxpayer’s heirs.
“They don’t pay a cent,” Biden said. “It’s not a heritage tax, it was a tax owed 10 seconds before you [died]. Well guess what? That costs $17 billion a year. Eliminate that one loophole, it can put every single solitary person in community college who’s qualified, increasing the productivity in this country.”
Biden also touted his plan to increase taxes on wealth as a way, he said, to drive wage growth in the country.
“If you’re going to restore the middle class, we need to start to reward work again, not just wealth,” Biden said. “Right now, under the Republican and the Trump plan, we only reward wealth. … We need to build an economy that, in fact, rewards work, not just wealth, reflects our values. And that’s going to start, I’m going to start by reversing the Trump tax cuts for the super wealthy and corporations. The wealthy didn’t need them in the first place.”
A pair of national polls released Wednesday were split as to whether Biden or Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the front-runner in the Democratic field. RealClear Politics had Biden leading the way with 28 percent support, followed by Warren at 23.7 percent. But The Economist showed Warren in front at 25.7 percent, with Biden at 25 percent.
The Iowa Caucuses, the first voting event in the Democratic primary season, are set to take place Feb. 3, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11. Pennsylvania has one of the later primaries, on April 28.