He calls himself “Uncle Joe” and “Middle Class Joe.” He often talks about his almost archetypal U.S. political success story of rising from the middle class to become a U.S. Senator and Vice-President.
Now he is running for President. Biden contends that he will and has always represented the interests of the U.S. middle class.
In one campaign ad, Biden states, “Maybe the most important thing my mom and dad taught me was that everyone should be treated with dignity. Today too many middle class and working class people, they’re not able to look their kid in the eye and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be okay,’ and mean it. That’s why I’m running.” In his first campaign speech delivered to a largely union crowd in Pittsburgh, Biden stated “Let me say this simply and clearly, and I mean this: The country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers, CEOs and hedge fund managers. It was built by you. It was built by the great American middle class.” In an interview, Biden stated, “It’s high time we helped Main Street.”
At a rally in Iowa, Biden summed up his main campaign theme, “I think the moral obligation of our time is to rebuild the middle class…That’s my north star and the reason for that is when the middle class does well, everybody does well.”
Throughout his political career, Biden has portrayed himself as siding with the millions of middle-class workers and small businesspersons who populate Main Street against the bankers, corporate executives and billionaires who inhabit Wall Street.
Is Biden’s self-portrayal accurate? In his long political career, has Biden been the champion of the middle class against the “Wall Street bankers, CEOs and hedge fund managers”?
In this and a number of future articles, I will examine specific presidential candidates not in terms of the liberal, moderate or conservative labels but in terms of their relationship to the U.S. power structure: who supports and funds them, whose power is increased or decreased from the policies they espouse, and whose interests they have in the past and will in the future actually represent.
In a previous article, I analyzed Pete Buttigieg in terms of his relationship to the interests of Wall Street and the corporate elite. In this article, I will examine Joe Biden not in terms of his “social” or “cultural” policies but in terms of whether Biden serves the interests of Wall Street or Main Street. This analysis will be based on identifying Biden’s main contributors, the legislation and policies he supported as senator and vice president, and his statements and policy proposals.
As a Presidential Candidate, Biden Literally Promised Wall Street and Billionaires: “I Won’t Let You Down, I Promise You.” Biden has gone to great lengths to reassure Wall Street of his fidelity. For example, in June 2019, Joe Biden addressed more than 100 wealthy donors at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan.
The crowd included Robert Rubin (former Co-Chair of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary under Clinton) and Robert Altman (former co-head of investment banking at Lehman Brothers; Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Carter and Clinton; and former Vice-Chairman of the Blackstone Group). Obviously, the attendees represented not just the mega-rich but also some of the most powerful members of the Wall Street political elite.
Biden not only pledged his fealty to their interests but also differentiated himself from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Biden stated “The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change…I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you.”
Follow the Money: Biden Has Always Relied on Contributions from Wall Street. Biden has been beholden to Wall Street and billionaire donors throughout his entire career.
- As Senator, Biden relied on Wall Street money. Biden’s cozy relationship with Wall Street reflects the role of that industry in Delaware – the state Biden represented as Senator from January 1973 to January 2009. Delaware is the chosen home for large corporations and many financial services firms. Delaware has more businesses incorporated in the state (1.4 million) than there are residents (967,000 in 2018). More than 50% of all publicly traded companies and more than 67% of the Fortune 500 are incorporated in Delaware. One leading business professor stated, “Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business … what it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.” There are three major reasons for Delaware’s popularity among big corporations: it is a tax haven that allows corporations to declare certain types of revenue in Delaware rather than in higher tax states; Delaware makes it easy to incorporate, avoid liability and retain privacy without providing much documentation; and the Delaware courts allow companies to resolve disputes quickly with a judge rather than a jury. Financial services dominate the Delaware economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the traditional measure of the entire financial sector (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) accounts for 44% of the entire state economy and almost 50% of the private sector. Finance and Insurance alone account for 30% of the entire state economy.
Thus, it is no surprise that the interests of the financial services sector and Biden are intertwined. According to the Center for Responsive Politics the entire finance capital sector (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) has been the largest business sector contributor to Biden’s various senatorial and his 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns. Between 1990-2007, this sector invested $6.87 million in Biden. The second largest individual business contributor to Biden’s campaigns over this period was MBNA that invested $265,350 into Biden’s campaigns before he ran for Vice-President on the Obama ticket. MBNA was the largest independent credit card company in the U.S. and the largest private sector employer in Delaware. In 2007, MBNA was acquired by Bank of America and in 2017 by Lloyds Banking Group of the UK.
- As Presidential candidate, Biden continues to rely on Wall Street money. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics also reveals that the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) sector has invested $6.32 million in Biden’s current presidential campaign – this not only is the largest source of Biden’s campaign funds among businesses, but it is FIRE’s largest investment in any Democratic candidate and second only to Trump overall. This figure includes a $3.04 million investment by the finance and insurance sector of Wall Street. The Blackstone Group (a major multi-national private equity firm) and Morgan Stanley are among Biden’s largest contributors. Biden also has received $3.28 million in contributions from the real estate industry – second only to its investment in President Trump.
According to a Forbes article in December 2019, forty-four billionaires have given to Biden’s campaign. Twenty-five or almost 60% come from the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate sector including 17 from “Finance and Investments” and 8 from Real Estate. The article states, “Biden’s billionaire backers may come in handy down the line. In October, a pro-Biden super PAC called Unite The Country sprang to life. Super PACs, which can end up buying ads to support or oppose particular candidates, are not controlled directly by campaigns.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Unite the Country spent $5.5 million as of February 2020. The finance/insurance/real estate sector accounted for $2.4 million.
Wealthy individuals also act as bundlers who aggregate the contributions of multiple donors. The minimum contribution to qualify as a bundler is $25,000. Biden lists 262 individuals as bundlers on his campaign site. According to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 40% of his total bundlers were tied to the FIRE sector including 23% from the “financial industry” and 17% from real estate. At a minimum, the FIRE sector has bundled $2.625 million. The report also shows that while Biden likes to tout his support from rural and suburban voters, 106 of his big money bundlers reside in the big urban centers of from New York, Chicago, California and Washington DC.
An investigative reporter, Lee Fang, published an article in The Intercept examining Biden’s ongoing ties to Wall Street and other major corporate funders during his 2020 campaign. The title of the article tells the story: “Joe Biden’s Super PAC Is Being Organized by Corporate Lobbyists for the Health Care Industry, Weapons Makers, Finance.”
Biden Has Consistently Chosen Wall Street over Main Street. Biden has served his Wall Street investors well. The following list provides some of the highlights of Biden’s service to Wall Street over his career – to the detriment of Main Street.
- Supported banking industry consolidation and Too Big to Fail Banks. Biden helped banks and insurance companies consolidate and become too big to fail. In 1994, Biden backed the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act that eliminated any remaining barriers to inter-state banking. This opened the floodgates to a new era of corporate consolidation of the banking industry.
- Supported the elimination of protections that limited Wall Street speculation. Biden helped to eliminate protections against financial industry speculation thereby creating conditions that exacerbated the Great Recession of 2008. In 1999, Biden voted for the Financial Services Modernization Act, which repealed the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law barring banks from owning securities and insurance businesses. One of Biden’s largest contributors MBNA lobbied for the repeal of Glass Steagall and he delivered. Glass-Steagall created a wall between commercial banks and investment banks. Workers and small businesses use commercial banks to deposit their money in federally guaranteed checking and savings accounts. Glass Steagall prevented banks from transferring these federally guaranteed deposits to their investment banking operations that focused on high risk and speculative investments.
In this way, Glass-Steagall served to limit the ability of banks from using no-risk federal guaranteed deposits for high-risk speculative investments. The 1999 act repealed these protections. Not surprisingly, this allowed Wall Street to create a new era of rampant speculation – which adversely affected small businesses and workers.
- Supported Wall Street banks while hurting Main Street small business and middle-class borrowers. The Bankruptcy Act of 2005 presented Biden with a stark choice between Wall Street and Main Street. Biden not only chose Wall Street, but he championed Wall Street’s interests. This bill made it much more difficult for financially distressed families to receive the protections that accompany a bankruptcy filing. Conversely, it aided the banking industry by making it easier to collect that debt.
Bankruptcy was designed to help individuals and businesses eliminate all or part of their debt or help them repay a portion of what they owe. It often involves a bankruptcy court and negotiating a repayment plan. However, the Act basically removed bankruptcy as an option for millions of families. Many consumer groups and unions opposed the bill.
However, it was proposed and energetically supported by the finance industry. The credit card industry spent $100 million lobbying for the bill over an eight-year period. MBNA, one of Biden’s leading donors, lobbied hard for its passage. Only Biden and 3 other Democratic Senators joined with a solid bloc of Republicans to defeat every attempt to moderate the bill.
An article in The Guardian provides an assessment of Biden’s role by Melissa Jacoby, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill specializing in bankruptcy, “Biden was one of the most powerful people who could have said no [to the Bankruptcy Act], who could have changed this. Instead he used his leadership role to limit the ability of other Democrats who had concerns and who wanted the bill softened…. I don’t know how else to explain his stance on bankruptcy policy for financially distressed families other than his relationship with the consumer credit industry. There really isn’t another plausible explanation.”
Elizabeth Warren, then a Harvard law school professor, adamantly opposed the bill in its various forms. She even wrote an entire paper criticizing Biden’s role in an earlier version of the bill. Bernie Sanders, then a Congressman from Vermont, voted against the bill. In the final vote, Biden and 17 other Democrats voted for the bill.
A Mother Jones article by Tim Murphy provides a detailed account of how Biden assisted his investors (especially MBNA and the entire banking sector) by supporting and helping to craft this pro-Wall Street legislation that was ironically named the Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. Between 1980 and 1997, the number of Americans filing for personal bankruptcy jumped more than 300 percent, affecting 1.3 million households annually. Borrowers were being hit with significant increases in medical bills, student loans, credit card fees, and mortgages while experiencing a long period of stagnant incomes.
The rise in personal bankruptcies was very troubling to the banks and credit card companies. The banking industry crafted a bill that did not focus on the needs of debtors and did not address the reasons why personal bankruptcies were increasing. Instead, the banking industry and its political allies focused on making it harder for people to declare bankruptcy and easier for banks and credit card companies to collect. The Bankruptcy Act made personal bankruptcy more expensive, complex, bureaucratic, burdensome and less effective and, thus, more difficult for families to get out of crushing debt. But it did protect the assets and interests of the banks holding the debt. The number of personal bankruptcy filings has fallen by half since the Act became law.
Helped create the student debt crisis – this is not hyperbole. Biden’s role in the creation of the student debt crisis is especially illustrative of his choice of Wall Street over Main Street. Biden was part of a multi-decade banking strategy to make it easier for students to acquire debt while making it much more difficult for them to declare bankruptcy.
Obviously, this benefitted the banks who expanded their loans to students and their power to collect the debt. Currently, 45 million Americans owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. More than 1 million people default on their student loans every year. An investigative report in the Intercept concludes that “Joe Biden played a central role in the creation of the student debt crisis that he and other candidates are now promising to fix, according to a close look at the legislative history around the spiraling phenomenon.”
The article cites Biden’s role in the 1970s in passing legislation that made it easier for students to acquire student loan debt while also writing other legislation blocking students from seeking bankruptcy protections on those loans after graduation. In 1986, Biden supported legislation that prevented students in default under the Guaranteed Student Loan program from receiving new federal assistance. As discussed above, Biden was a major proponent for the Bankruptcy Act of 2005 that made it even more difficult for students to declare bankruptcy due to crushing student debt.
The combination of easier availability of loans and less availability of bankruptcy protections led to a massive increase in student loans and defaults. Student loan statistics collected by Motley Fool show that from 2005 to 2019, total student debt soared from $391 billion to $1.6 trillion. There are now 44.7 million Americans holding student debt – most of which is comprised by federal loans. However, there is approximately $125 billion in private student loans. About 20% of all people with student loans are behind on their payments.
Falling behind or missing payments can lead to a lower credit rating that will make it more difficult to obtain future financing for such important items as cars, homes and small business ventures. The Intercept article notes that “Biden, who has said he’s still paying off $298,000 in student debt for his three children, opposes free college and student debt forgiveness, calling it unrealistic.”
- Placed corporate rights over consumer rights. Biden was also active in opposing efforts to give consumers the right to sue companies for predatory business practices. Zach Carter, in a Huffington Post article, describes how Biden opposed Senator Ted Kennedy’s effort to protect consumer rights. Instead, Senator Biden supported corporate rights. Carter states, “Biden…. was also trying to thwart a Kennedy effort that would have empowered consumers to sue over a broader swath of antitrust violations.
In 1977, the Supreme Court issued a controversial ruling that only those who directly purchased products could sue companies for antitrust violations. That meant that manufacturers who sold their goods through wholesalers could only be sued by the wholesalers, not consumers. Kennedy prepared a bill that would have reversed the court’s decision, but Biden, in the words of The New York Times, “vexed” him by siding with Republicans. Biden was going out on a limb by bucking leadership.
Only two of the committee’s 10 Democrats opposed Kennedy on the bill, and the other was Howell Heflin, a conservative Democrat from Alabama. The bill narrowly made it out of committee after Kennedy made some desperate last-minute concessions to win over Republican Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.), but the bill never got a floor vote. Kennedy’s broader antitrust ambitions died with it.”
Biden has Consistently Sought to Cut Social Security and Government Social Services in order to Reduce the Federal Debt. Biden’s position on the federal debt and government spending provides yet another example of his preference for Wall Street and the wealthy over Main Street and the “middle class.” Wall Street consistently calls for budget cuts to social security and government social services, often to pay for their tax cuts. It is part of the overall Corporate Agenda (increase profits by cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy, government regulations, government social spending and labor costs while increasing privatization). Biden has bought into important parts of this agenda.
Many articles have detailed Biden’s attempts over a 40-year period to reduce the federal debt by cutting social programs as well as Social Security (examples include Slate, The Intercept, The Week, and Huffington Post). The Slate article concludes, “For the vast majority of his career, Joe Biden was a proud deficit hawk—a man who fretted for decades about federal spending and, on occasion, bragged about his own personal attempts in the 1980s ‘to freeze all government spending, including Social Security,’ in the name of fiscal prudence….there’s no getting around the fact that Biden spent the vast majority of his time in Washington beating the drum for budget cuts.”
- Supported the Reagan tax cut and then proposed cuts to social programs and Social Security to reduce the resulting deficits. The Huffington Post article traces Biden’s preference for budget cutting back to the 1980s when Biden “voted for the Reagan tax bill that slashed the top income tax rate from 70% to 50% and exempted many wealthy families from the estate tax on unearned inheritances, a measure that cost the federal government an estimated $83 billion in annual revenue. He then called for a spending freeze on Social Security in order to reduce the deficits that tax law helped to created. “While this program is severe,” Biden said on the Senate floor, ‘it is the only proposal that will halt the upward spiral of deficits,” which supposedly threatened ‘an economic and political crisis of extraordinary proportions’ within 18 months.”
- Supported a balanced budget constitutional amendment which, if enacted, would have created an economic disaster. A report by the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities includes a withering critique of a proposed constitutional amendment mandating a balance budget. “If such an amendment had been ratified when Congress last voted on these proposals and had been enforced for fiscal year 2012, ‘the effect on the economy would be catastrophic,’ Macroeconomic Advisors, one of the nation’s preeminent private economic forecasting firms, concluded at the time. It would have caused the unemployment rate to double from 9% in that year to 18% by throwing an additional 15 million people out of work, according to the firm. Not only that, ‘recessions would be deeper and longer’ under a constitutional budget amendment, and uncertainty would be cast over the economy that could retard economic growth even in normal economic times, the analysis concluded.”
Such critiques are prevalent whenever the balanced budget constitutional amendment has been proposed. Yet, Biden enthusiastically supported such an amendment even though it would have been devastating to the economy. The Slate article includes the following 1995 Biden quote,
“I am one of those Democrats who voted for the constitutional
amendment to balance the budget. I have introduced on four occasions
– four occasions! – entire plans to balance the budget… I tried with
Senator Grassley back in the ‘80s to freeze all government spending,
including Social Security. Including everything….”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the preeminent trade group representing Big Business, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, another leading big business group, have supported balanced budget amendments over the years. However, Biden faced strong opposition from unions, consumer groups, and AARP. The Delaware News Journal carried a story that was headlined: “Biden gets blasted on budget bill: Seniors head list of groups pressing him to reconsider.”
The article even quoted an AARP representative as stating that the amendment “is nothing more than a raid on Social Security’s trust fund.” Bernie Sanders, then a Congressmember from Vermont stated on the House floor, “The balanced budget amendment will be a disaster for working people, for elderly people, for low-income people…It will mean, in my view, the destruction of the Social Security system as we know it.” In order for a constitutional amendment to go to the states for ratification, it requires a 2/3 majority vote in both the House and the Senate. The balanced budget amendment obtained the 2/3 majority in the House. The vote was known to be close in the Senate.
Despite facing strong opposition Biden voted for the amendment - it failed to obtain the 2/3 majority in the Senate by just one vote. Economic disaster was avoided despite not because of Biden.
- Called for cuts to Social Security during his 2008 presidential campaign. In a 2007 interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, Biden stated that he would consider cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age which would push back the age at which seniors could begin collecting benefits and by reducing cost-of-living increases. Biden stated that he agreed with such cuts, “Absolutely, you have to.” Biden furthermore boasted about his role in helping to negotiate a deal that previously raised the retirement age to 67. An article in The Week, also reported that the 2008 Biden campaign a released a plan that included "options such as upping the retirement age[.]" And that he “endorsed the idea again during a primary debate (to be fair, he also endorsed removing the payroll tax cap to add revenue).”
- Led the 2011-2012 attempt to negotiate a “grand bargain” of long-term cuts to Social Security and Medicare in return for modest tax increases on the rich. In 2011-12, the Obama/Biden administration agreed that the deficit was a major problem – even though the economy was still in the throes of the Great Recession. Sound economic policy would require greater government spending at such a moment, not government cutbacks. However, the administration was still reeling from the results of the 2010 landslide election of Republicans to the House and Senate. Obama gave in to pressure from Republicans and big business lobbyists and decided to make a budget deal. Obama dispatched Biden to try to ink a “grand bargain” with the House GOP that would have traded relatively modest tax increases for significant long term cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The Grand Bargain would have reduced the debt by an estimated $4 trillion over 10 years. Despite strong efforts by the administration and Biden, the Grand Bargain failed because right wing Republicans would not support any, even modest, tax increases.
Biden is still promoting cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Biden’s current campaign platform actually calls for slightly expanding Social Security benefits for seniors. And yet, as reported by Slate and many other outlets, during a 2018 speech at the Brookings Institute, Biden still managed to suggest that both Social Security and Medicare would need “adjustments” – which is inside-the-beltway talk for “cuts.” Biden stated, “Paul Ryan [former Republican Speaker of the House] was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided to go after? Social Security and Medicare. That’s the only way you can find room to pay for it.” There is some controversy over whether Biden was being serious or sarcastic. However, such a statement clearly fits the pattern of Biden’s proposals over 40-years.
While Touting Support for Workers, Biden Collects Major Contributions from Union Busting Law Firms, was Culpable in the Failure to Pass Important Pro-Union Legislation and Supported Job Killing Trade Deals. Unions are still important – especially to the Democratic Party. In 2019, unions represented 16.4 million wage and salary workers (14.6 million union members and 1.8 million others whose job is represented by unions). Unions are an important source of money for candidates but also, more importantly, unions provide thousands of volunteers for canvassing, phone banking and get-out-the-vote efforts. Biden portrays himself as a friend of labor. So far, he has won the endorsements of a number of unions including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the International Association of Firefighters. However, there are a number of troubling concerns about Biden and his support of unions including the following:
- Continues to accept financial contributions from union-busting firms. While seeking support from labor unions and touting his past support from unions, Biden is simultaneously accepting thousands of dollars in contributions from union-busting firms. A report in Sludge detailed the thousands of dollars in contributions that union-busting law firms have given to Biden.
The report includes a list of Biden donors that constitute a veritable “who’s who” among anti-union firms in the U.S. The list includes Jackson Lewis, one of the most well-known anti-worker firms, which has a long history of orchestrating aggressive anti-union campaigns for retailers like Ikea, as well as manufacturers, media outlets, and universities. Another contributing firm, Morgan Lewis, promises employers will “avoid union penetration, and strategically shape bargaining units to minimize potential union organizing victories.” The report also details how a number of Morgan Lewis partners have served on the National Labor Relations Board – including two appointed by President Trump.
The website of another donor firm, Cozen O’Connor, states that it helps employers “avoid unionization through positive employee relations and regain nonunion status when employees indicate they no longer wish to be union-represented.” Ballard Spahr offers legal services including “union avoidance training and counseling” and “prevention and control of strikes and picketing” in order to “help clients maintain a union-free environment.” Obviously, Biden sees no problem accepting donations from anti-union firms while seeking union endorsements.
- Biden played an important role in undercutting support for important pro-worker legislation in 1978. In 1977-78, the Democrats controlled the White House as well as majorities in the House and the Senate. President Carter and other leading Democrats promised unions that they supported and would pass a mild set of labor reforms that would have speeded up the process for workers to accept or reject union representation and to negotiate a first contract. The Labor Reform Act of 1978 did not pass. In a review of Biden’s labor record in The Guardian, Gabriel Winant observed, “In 1977-1978, during unions’ big push for labor law reform, he [Biden] vacillated for months and sabotaged the proposal with public criticism.”
- Biden was culpable for the failure to get important pro-worker legislation passed in 2009. In January 2009, President Obama appointed Vice-President Biden as chair of the White House Task Force on Working Families basically putting him in charge of the Administration’s support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
This act would have made it somewhat easier for unions to organize and collectively bargain by instituting three major provisions: A "card check" provision would have allowed workers to form a union by a simple majority signing union cards; it would have imposed binding arbitration in newly unionized workplaces if the company and union could not reach a new contract within 90 days; and it would have increased fines on companies that violated workers' right to organize.
The labor movement united in its effort to pass the legislation. At a labor union rally in September 2009, Biden promised that EFCA would pass Congress by the end of the year. He was optimistic, after all Democrats at various times during 2009 controlled 60 Senate seats – enough to end any filibuster. However, EFCA never got the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate and, thus, never came to the floor. Various compromises weakened the initial act but still never garnered the 60 votes. Of course, the major corporations vigorously opposed EFCA. But many analysts blamed President Obama and Vice President Biden for the defeat.
For example, the Atlantic Monthly concluded that the defeat of EFCA was due to a lack of support from Obama and Biden. “As of a few months ago, labor strategists could accurately claim as many as 58 votes in the Senate, just two shy of the magic 60 needed to avoid a filibuster. But even as President Obama and Vice President Biden dutifully praised card check in speeches, the White House did not put any political muscle into passing it, and they very clearly indicated to congressional leaders that its passage was less important than health care, its economic stimulus efforts, its financial industry regulation proposals...”
- Supported major “free” trade deals that decimated U.S. manufacturing while benefiting Wall Street and other corporations. Biden voted for the two largest trade deals in U.S. history (NAFTA and China) which led to the net loss of more than 4 million U.S. jobs most of which were held by union manufacturing workers. And Biden helped lead the fight for the even larger Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that was modeled after NAFTA. The TPP was not enacted due to massive opposition by labor, environment, consumer and religious groups. It should be noted that Bernie Sanders helped lead the fight against NAFTA, the China trade deals and the TPP.
- Biden supported NAFTA which displaced 850,000 U.S. jobs. NAFTA was the most contentious trade deal in modern U.S. history. The U.S. business community, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supported the deal while the entire labor movement along with many environmental, consumer and religious groups opposed the deal. It became effective in 1994 after President Clinton pushed it through Congress. According to the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA resulted in the displacement of 850,000 U.S. jobs from 1993-2013. This loss was primarily due to corporations transferring their U.S. production facilities to Mexico where they could still have no tariff access to the U.S. market without having to meet the more stringent U.S. labor and environmental laws while also paying much lower wages to Mexican workers. NAFTA also led to the net loss of 1.2 million Mexican agricultural jobs in Mexico leading to an explosion of emigration to the U.S. Senator Biden of Delaware voted for NAFTA. At a 2019 campaign stop, Biden stated, “And I think that back in the time during the Clinton administration, it [NAFTA] made sense at the moment.”
- Biden supported trade deals with China that cost 3.4 million U.S. jobs. The U.S. greatly aided China’s quest to become a world economic power. In 2001, the Clinton administration pushed Congress into granting Permanent Normal Trade Relation (PNTR) status to China. This meant that China would be treated no differently than any of the other 129 countries with PNTR status – all of whom belonged to the World Trade Organization.
The result was that goods from China would obtain the lower tariffs accorded to other major countries trading with the U.S. This enabled China to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO). By joining the WTO, China committed to lowering its trade barriers and agreeing to a set of global trade standards, practices and the resolution of trade disputes. President Clinton stated at the time, “… it will advance our own economic interests. Economically, this agreement is the equivalent of a one-way street.
It requires China to open its markets — with a fifth of the world's population, potentially the biggest markets in the world — to both our products and services in unprecedented new ways.” Well, as many predicted at the time, these deals did not benefit U.S. workers. The U.S. trade deficit with China exploded from $83 billion in 2001 to $385 billion in 2018 which led to the net loss of 3.4 million U.S. jobs to China. These trade deals were strongly supported by Big Business as represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and opposed by organized labor and environmental groups. Senator Biden supported and voted for PNTR.
- Biden helped lead the fight to adopt the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Obama administration sponsored, negotiated, and led the effort to get Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This trade deal was modeled after NAFTA and was even called “NAFTA on Steroids.” The TPP included 12 countries ranging from Japan and Vietnam to the U.S., Mexico and Canada covering almost 40% of the world’s economy. The TPP, like NAFTA, would have provided incentives for corporations to transfer their U.S. operations to the other participating countries who had lower labor costs and lower labor and environmental standards while obtaining basically free access to the U.S. market.
Just like NAFTA and the China PNTR, big business including Wall Street supported the deal while labor, environmental, consumer and religious groups opposed the deal. Biden supported and actively lobbied for the TPP and tried to push it through the Senate. And, as vice president, Biden had the power to pass TPP if there was a tie vote in the Senate. Due to strong opposition, the Obama administration did not have the votes to get the TPP passed. However, Biden did not give up: in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs before the 2016 elections, Biden urged the next administration to push the TPP through the Senate.
Possible Conflicts of Interest in Relation to Bank Loans and Government Contracts to Family Members. Biden’s ties to the banking industry and the government have created other problems. Biden’s family members have obtained unusual loans and government contracts primarily while Biden was in office. An extensive investigative report in Politico has detailed many of these connections. The report states, “Biden’s image as a straight-shooting man of the people, however, is clouded by the careers of his son and brother, who have lengthy track records of making, or seeking, deals that cash in on his name.
There’s no evidence that Joe Biden used his power inappropriately or took action to benefit his relatives with respect to these ventures. Interviews, court records, government filings and news reports, however, reveal that some members of the Biden family have consistently mixed business and politics over nearly half a century, moving from one business to the next as Joe’s stature in Washington grew…. Their ventures, over nearly half a century, have regularly raised conflict-of-interest questions and brought the Biden family into potentially compromising associations.”
For example, MBNA, one of the largest contributors to Biden’s various campaigns, hired Biden’s son, Hunter, as a lobbyist right out of law school and hired him as a consultant from 2001-2005 – the same years that Senator Biden was helping to pass the bankruptcy bill that MBNA and the entire finance industry supported, as discussed above. In the 1970s, when Biden was on the Senate Banking Committee, his brother James, “obtained unusually generous loans from lenders who later faced federal regulatory issues.”
During the Obama years, James became executive Vice-President of Hill International even though he did not have any apparent experience in the construction sector. Hill International won a $1.5 billion contract to build 100,000 homes in Iraq. One analysis of this deal asked and answered the following question, “How did the company get the contract? It helped to have “the brother of the vice president as a partner,” the company’s president allegedly told a group of investors.” Ironically and possibly unfairly, these potential conflicts of interest will be raised as an issue by none other than Donald Trump if Biden wins the Democratic Party nomination.
CONCLUSION: This article started with a question: is Biden correct to portray himself as champion of the middle class against the “Wall Street bankers, CEOs and hedge fund managers?” The answer is no. Biden’s own actions throughout his career have proven that he primarily represents the interests of Wall Street to the detriment of Main Street. He has relied and continues to rely on the campaign contributions of Wall Street and billionaires, including union busting law firms.
He supported and often led the fight for legislation that further consolidated the financial industry, eliminated laws that had curbed Wall Street’s penchant for excessive speculation, and increased protections for banks while eroding protections for consumers. And he supported trade deals that benefitted Wall Street and other big corporations while eliminating 4 million U.S. jobs primarily held by union manufacturing workers. Conversely, he is culpable for the failure to pass legislation that would have helped strengthen unions and protect the rights of consumers.
All these Biden-supported policies actually set the stage for the financial meltdown of 2008 that proved so disastrous to the millions of workers, small businesspeople and communities that actually define Main Street. And these policies also enabled big corporations and the wealthy elite to dominate our politics over the past 45 years during which trillions of dollars have been transferred from Main Street workers and the middle class to Wall Street and billionaires.
Throughout his political career, Biden has been “Uncle Joe” for Wall Street, not Main Street.