Biden releases his healthcare policy, Delaney goes on Firing Line, the current state of the July debates, and Gabbard takes the weekend off—for a very good reason.

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Note: This is the speaking script for the show, so the audio as delivered will differ very slightly from the below. This script also does not include audio clips from third-party sources, or advertisements, which may appear at various points in the show.

Biden releases his healthcare policy

This morning, Joe Biden released his new healthcare policy. It’s called, “The Biden Plan to Protect and Build on the Affordable Care Act.” In addition to the text of the policy, Biden released a video to promote it. In it, Biden stands in front of a mantelpiece with a triangle-folded flag in a wooden case. Now, although it’s not mentioned, that sure looks like the burial flag for Beau Biden, Joe’s son, who died in 2015 and served in the US Army from 2002 until his death. I think the symbolism there is obvious, given that Beau Biden died from brain cancer and we’re talking about healthcare policy here. Okay, so let’s listen to the audio from that intro video:

[BIDEN CLIP 1 – HEALTHCARE]

Okay, so let’s get into what’s in the actual policy plan. The key item is adding a public option to Obamacare, and allowing that Medicare-style option to compete alongside the existing private insurance market. In an interesting twist, this option would be available to anyone, even if you already get insurance from your employer—that’s an expansion beyond what Obama’s original vision for a public option was, and that may help win over some people who are in the center-left on his whole health care thing.

In addition to the new public option, Biden’s plan would reduce out-of-pocket expenses for all healthcare recipients in the US, and increase tax credits for people who pay for their own insurance—including expanding tax credits to everyone, not just people whose income is up to 400 percent of the poverty line, which is the current law.

And that’s not all. Biden includes a proposal to reign in the rising cost of prescription drugs. If a company raises the price of its prescription drugs by more than the cost of inflation, Biden’s plan would slap a tax penalty on them. Now, how much is that penalty? It’s not stated in the proposal, but okay, at least there’s something there. Also, Biden’s plan includes a variety of methods to increase the availability and affordability of generic drugs, some of which have been blocked from the market or had their prices raised by drug-makers seeking additional profits. Oh, and yet another thing on this drug cost front, the Biden plan would eliminate a drug company tax break for advertising.

In addition to all that, Biden’s plan would give Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers, AND would allow importing prescription drugs from other countries. Both of these are methods of reducing prescription drug prices overall.

Another interesting item in the proposal is that, for the states that did NOT participate in Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, Biden’s plan would go ahead and do that for them. But in place of Medicaid, Biden would substitute his Medicare-style public option. This would give an estimated 5 million low-income people in those states immediate access to the new public option at no cost to them. In a summary, Sam Baker at Vox pointed out that this could be controversial, writing,

“In other words, non-expansion states would get a better deal than those that participated in the expansion — arguably, rewarding their resistance to the ACA.”

That’s a fair point, but I assume Biden’s counter-point would be, okay, let’s provide the Medicaid expansion states this public option too.

There are also provisions in the plan to expand access to contraceptives and abortion services, restore funding for Planned Parenthood, and make the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision an actual federal law. As we’ve discussed on this show previously, Biden would also eliminate the Hyde Amendment, which currently prevents any federal funding from going to abortion services.

Okay, so having read through the policy and given you some highlights, I think the best way to understand this policy is as, essentially, Obamacare—or, the Affordable Care Act, if you prefer—with a whole bunch of additions and tweaks. In the written policy, Biden repeatedly points out existing legislative proposals that he would simply work to pass—this is a good example of not reinventing the wheel if there’s already a solution on the table. Now, the issue of how exactly to pass that stuff if you don’t also control the Senate, well, that’s another matter, but to be frank, you couldn’t do Medicare for All, or really much of anything in the primary candidates’ healthcare policy, without Democratic control of Senate anyway. It seems likely that even without the Senate, the Biden plan might be able to pick up at least a few of its core points, like the drug price reduction stuff.

All right, so, as with all policy, I ask what this will cost and how does the candidate plan to pay for it? Well, Biden addresses that. Reading from that section here,

“The Biden Plan will make health care a right by getting rid of capital gains tax loopholes for the super wealthy. Today, the very wealthy pay a tax rate of just 20% on long-term capital gains. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the capital gains and dividends exclusion is the second largest tax expenditure in the entire tax code: $127 billion [dollars] in fiscal year 2019 alone. As President, Biden will roll back the Trump rate cut for the very wealthy and restore the 39.6% top rate he helped restore when he negotiated an end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in 2012. Biden’s capital gains reform will close the loopholes that allow the super wealthy to avoid taxes on capital gains altogether. The Biden plan will assure those making over $1 million [dollars] will pay the top rate on capital gains, doubling the capital gains tax rate on the super wealthy.”

Now, you may note that there is no overall price tag within that language. But the campaign did provide that in a call with reporters, saying the plan would cost $750 billion dollars over a decade. According to the campaign, the tax code changes I just mentioned would add up to a full payment for that cost.

So, in summary, Biden is proposing to expand Obamacare substantially, completing the original vision by including a public option, and taking a sort of middle road on health care. This adds up to one of the biggest disagreements Biden has with several major candidates in this field, some of whom support the Sanders Medicare for All bill, which would intentionally eliminate all private insurance. Watch this discussion in particular to see which candidates embrace the Biden plan, now that we have two very clearly-articulated options on the table: Medicare for All, or what is essentially Obamacare 2.0.

Delaney goes on Firing Line

Yesterday, former Representative John Delaney went on Firing Line with Margaret Hoover for a sit-down interview. The show, if you’re not familiar with it, airs on PBS and is a recent reboot of the classic show that was originally hosted by William F. Buckley.

Okay, so the first thing I noticed was a clip from the show that Delaney chose to retweet. It came in the context of Hoover asking Delaney about his promise, back in January, to only work on bipartisan legislation or other bipartisan proposals during his first 100 days as president. Part of Delaney’s pitch is that he’s a moderate Democrat, with a history of working with Republicans in Congress. So I need to play you this clip. Listen in:

[DELANEY CLIP 1 – BIPARTISANSHIP]

Yeah. So, this, to me, is super-interesting. Delaney chose to highlight THAT clip as a win. But the reaction on Twitter was mixed. You had some of the people saying, hey, this is genuinely interesting to moderates and potentially even to Trump voters. Then everybody else was saying, yeah, but, um, didn’t Delaney just admit that he didn’t actually SUCCEED at the very thing he was touting? Meaning, he did not in fact pass ANY bipartisan bills? Now, where you land on that is up to you, but it definitely shows where Delaney sits on the issue, and shows that he sees his Congressional record as a strength.

Now, here’s one more clip that Firing Line also posted on Twitter. This has to do with Delaney’s recent visit to a detention center and gets at the issue of immigration policy more broadly. Listen in:

[DELANEY CLIP 2 – IMMIGRATION]

All right, so Delaney did NOT retweet that one, but I think he did well in his response, and it’s notable that his response actually lines up with many others in this field, like Julián Castro, on immigration policy. They’re essentially saying, let’s invest in certain key Central American countries to improve the situation there, as a root-cause fix so you reduce the need for people to leave those countries in search of asylum.

One last fun fact about Delaney before we move on—as I mentioned on Friday, there are two major candidates in this field who stand out as having been in this thing WAY longer than the rest. They are Andrew Yang at 616 days, and Delaney, who holds the record at 717 days as of today. He announced on July 28th, 2017. That means in just under two weeks, he can celebrate his two-year anniversary as a Democratic primary candidate, right before the July debates.

The current state of the July debates

Next up, let’s talk about the current state of those July debates—like, who’s definitely in, who’s maybe in, and who’s probably out.

The July debates have the same qualifying criteria as the June ones did, which means that candidates need to have either 65,000 unique donors, with at least 200 people donating from each of 20 states; OR they need to get a minimum of 1 percent support in each of three qualifying polls sanctioned by the DNC. If you get both, that’s great; if you get just one, you’ve got some potential problems.

The candidates who currently have met BOTH thresholds, which currently means they are VERY likely to be at the debate, are:

Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Harris, Inslee, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders, Warren, Williamson, and Yang.

So that’s 14 people who meet BOTH criteria and thus are relatively safe. There are a total of 20 spots available on the stage across the two nights. Okay, so how about candidates who have now met ONE of the two thresholds? Well, here’s that list:

Bennet, Bullock, de Blasio, Delaney, Hickenlooper, Gravel, and Ryan.

That’s 7 candidates. That means we have 21 candidates trying to find into 20 spots. Oh yeah, and in case you noticed Gravel in there, his campaign did indeed pass the fundraising threshold after I posted the show on Friday. So he has the donors he needs, but now he’s in this seven-person tie-breaker situation to get into six seats.

Incidentally, there are four more candidates in the race who, at least right now, don’t appear to meet either criteria. They are Messam, Moulton, Sestak, and Steyer. It’s certainly POSSIBLE that one or more of them could pull in more polling or donors in the next day or so, but the cut-off is Tuesday, so this is probably the field we’re looking at for the July debate.

Now, here’s the trouble. The DNC has all these tie-breaking rules, and what they boil to in this particular case is that they prefer better polling results OVER the donor threshold. So Gravel finds himself in the situation where he has only ONE poll that puts him at 1 percent, whereas the other six people vying for those six spots, all have THREE or more. That means, unless one of them drops out, or Gravel suddenly gets more polling, Gravel will NOT survive the tie-breaking process and won’t be in the debates. I discussed this last week, but I think it will come as a big surprise to a lot of donors who thought that meeting that donor threshold would be an automatic win. The campaign seemed to acknowledge this with an angry tweet on Saturday, reading:

“Mike has qualified for the debates, but (with a raft of idiot centrists polling at 1 percent, and with a DNC that would love to keep him out of the public eye) they are actively trying to screw us. But we'll fight back and make Mike's voice heard. That's our vow.”

Yeah. So the odds of Gravel actually making the debate are very slim—to me, the only path for him would be for another candidate to drop out literally today or tomorrow. That’s super unlikely but not impossible, given that there’s been so much chatter about, for instance, Hickenlooper having problems with fundraising and retaining staff. Now, having said that, I’m don’t see a reason for Hickenlooper to gracefully exit when he has a clear path into a free nationally-televised debate in two weeks, just so that his seat would be filled by somebody else. Or at least, I don’t think Hickenlooper would see it that way. Oh, and by the way, Hickenlooper just hired a new communications director so reports of his candidacy’s demise may be exaggerated.

On Wednesday evening, the DNC will announce the final list of qualifying candidates. It’s very likely to be the list I read above, minus Gravel. Another way to look at that list would be to say it’s the exact same lineup that we had in June, except Representative Eric Swalwell dropped out, and will be replaced by Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

Then the next day, on Thursday night at 8pm Eastern, CNN will do some kind of live TV event to determine which candidates will appear on which nights—we are again having a two-night debate, with ten slots on each night.

We still don’t know whether CNN will use a similar process to what NBC used in an attempt to mix higher- and lower-polling candidates across the two nights, or a purely random draw, or something else—apparently the details of that lineup split are up to CNN, and they have not yet told us how they plan to do it. Expect to hear about that later today or perhaps on Tuesday. I’ll let you know when I know.

Gabbard takes the weekend off—for a very good reason

And last up today, Representative Tulsi Gabbard was not on the campaign trail this weekend. Why not? Well, she’s an active duty member of the Army National Guard, and this weekend she was on duty.

Gabbard’s sister Vrindavan managed her campaign Twitter account over the weekend, and encouraged donors to push the campaign past 100,000 donors while Gabbard was otherwise engaged.

At press time, I hadn’t seen a tweet announcing whether they had met that goal, but given that they were only a few hundred donors away, it’s likely by the time you hear this that Gabbard has picked up 100,000 donors and is on her way toward 130,000—the number she needs for the September debates.

Outro

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. So, this was our first episode with the new title and new logo—I hope y’all like it! I spent the weekend gearing up for a summer wedding NEXT weekend up in Maine, trying to figure out a good outfit for an outdoor wedding in July, which is a little different from my usual wedding getup—I’m more a tweed blazer than a linen shirt guy usually. So. You know, pushing the comfort zone slightly. Just keeping my fingers crossed that the humidity stays down. What’s that you say? July in Maine? Oh, yeah, cool cool. As always, thanks for listening and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.