Differences in Economic Policy
In 2017, the Trump administration enacted tax cuts that lowered the tax rate on corporations from 35% to 20%. Notable changes for individuals were:
- Roughly doubled the standard deduction: from $6,350 to $12,000 for single taxpayers and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married filers
- New limitations on itemized deductions:
- Lower federal income tax rates (details)
- Reduced the amount of home mortgage debt that itemizers can deduct interest on from $1 million to $750,000
- Capped the allowable deduction for state and local taxes paid (SALT) to $10,000. Previously, individuals could deduct the entire amount paid for either state individual income tax or state sales tax, but not both, along with any state and local property taxes paid.
- Increased the phaseout of the exemption from AMT (alternative minimum tax) from $160,900 to $1 million for joint filers.
- Eliminated the personal exemption and expanded the child tax credit.
While the tax cut for corporations was permanent, the tax cuts for individuals are set to expire at the end of 2025. Supporters of the tax cuts point to:
- Increase in standard deduction simplified filing because fewer people needed to itemize their deductions. Before the tax cuts, about 47 million tax returns contained itemized deductions. This number dropped to 18 million.
- Lower taxes on individuals and families helps put more money in the pocket of consumers and stimulates the economy.
- The personal exemption reduces taxable income so its benefit depends upon the marginal tax rate of the filer. A child tax credit lower tax liability directly so all income brackets benefit equally.
Detractors point to the following problems:
- Tax cuts disproportionately benefited people in higher income brackets.
- Tax cuts for companies did not result in more investment and hiring. Instead, companies used the extra profits to buy back stock or pay dividends, benefiting shareholders who typically tend to be higher income.
- Tax cuts for companies benefit shareholders, who could be foreign investors.
- Limiting SALT deductions was seen as a move against blue states like California and New Jersey, which have high state income tax rates.
Key features of Bidens tax plan are:
- 12.4% Social Security tax will kick back in for incomes above $400,000
- increase the income tax rate for the top bracket from 37% to 39.6%
- cap the value of itemized deductions at 28%.
- Raise the corporate rate from 21% to 28%
- a 15% alternative minimum tax on corporate book income of $100 million and higher.
- Increase the Child and Dependent Tax Credit from $3,000 to $8,000 ($16,000 for more than one dependent).
According to a budget model from Wharton School of Business, households with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) less than $400,000 would see an average 0.9% decrease in after-tax income, while households making more than $400,000 would see a 17.7% drop in their after-tax income.
As a Republican, Trump favors less regulation in order to be more business-friendly. As an example, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama administration rule that required automotive fuel economy standards to grow by 5% per year from 2021 to 2026. In March 2020, the Trump administration lowered this requirement to 1.5% per year under the SAFE rule. Critics are concerned that this will lead to more pollution and carbon emissions, hurting the environment and causing pollution-related deaths. Supporters say relaxing the regulatory requirements will result in lower costs for new cars, which will take more older clunkers off the market. Even with less aggressive improvement requirements, new cars are safer and cause fewer emissions than the older cars they would replace.
Biden has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour nationwide. Trump has opposed this, saying states should set the minimum wage. He did say that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is too low, but opposes any regulation raising it. Trump has also, on a different occasion, claimed that wages in America are too high. In fact, Trump has flip-flopped on the issue several times, making it hard to discern his true position — if indeed there is one.
Stance on China
This NYTimes article traces the evolution of Bidens stance on China. He sought closer ties with China and visited the country multiple times as Vice President. “A rising China is a positive, positive development, not only for China but for America and the world writ large,” Biden said in 2011. More recently, he has called China an authoritarian regime and its leader Xi Jinping a thug. When explaining his foreign policy, Biden wrote:
The United States does need to get tough with China. If China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property. It will also keep using subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises an unfair advantage—and a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future. The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, nonproliferation, and global health security.
Trump has also been critical of China for the trade imbalance between the two countries, stealing US intellectual property, and not being open to U.S. companies doing business in China. His approach has been to impose tariffs on goods imported from China and use the threat of further tariffs to negotiate a trade deal to address these issues. Trump had laid out this plan before the 2016 election and acted upon it during his presidency. Republicans are generally for free trade and against tariffs, so this position has not been popular among the Republican establishment or other economic experts. Trump has praised Chinas leader Xi Jinping, avoided criticizing the lack of human rights and political expression, and refused to impose sanctions over the detention camps where China has forced its Uighur Muslim population.
Trump vs Biden Debates
The first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH on September 29. The debate was marked by a lack of civility with Trump frequently interrupting Biden, and Biden saying Will you shut up, man? and Keep yapping, man.
Highlights from the Debate (video)
The full debate video is available here. The video below has highlights:
Supreme Court nominee
In 2016, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans had not allowed confirmation hearings for President Obamas Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland to replace Justine Antonin Scalia, saying the next president should choose the nominee:
Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
In 2020 the situation has reversed. President Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Republicans are rushing to confirm the nominee. Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump about this. Trumps response was that it was the right and responsibility of the president and the senate to appoint Supreme Court justices, and since Republicans control the White House and Senate, they will move forward.
On the other hand, Republicans have asked both Joe Biden and VP nominee Kamala Harris about whether Democrats would, if elected, pack the court. i.e., whether they would legislate expanding the size of the Supreme Court so that there are 15 justices instead of 9. If either party does this, they would get to nominate several new judges and be able to tilt the ideological balance in their favor.
Biden blamed Trump for the over 200,000 deaths that have occurred in the United States due to coronavirus infections. He criticized Trump for saying he knew about the danger of the pandemic but kept the information from the American public so that they may not panic. Biden accused Trump of panicking himself. Trump responded by saying the death toll would have been larger under a Biden presidency. He cited banning travel from China as an early action he took (Jan 31, 10 days after the first case was reporting in Washington state). At the time, Biden had criticized Trump, calling him xenophobic. Trump said Biden would not have closed American borders for travelers from China, which would have resulted in more deaths.
Trump said he wanted to reopen the economy while Biden warned about opening when the number of cases are rising. Biden also talked about giving businesses the help they need, without getting into specifics.
While it did not come up in the debate, Trump has been criticized for dissolving Global Health Security and Biodefense unit under the National Security Council (NSC). The unit had been set up in 2015 by Susan Rice, who was National Security Advisor under President Obama. Defendants of the move have said it was not a dissolution but a reorganization to create the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, which was the result of consolidating three directorates into one (full story here).
When asked where he indeed paid only $750 in federal income tax (as The New York Times had reported), Trump responded that he had paid millions of dollars in taxes. He did not specify whether he meant personal federal income tax or was referring to other state, local or federal taxes that his companies may have paid. Trump was unapologetic about taking advantage of tax laws to minimize his tax bill. He blamed Biden, who was a senator for 36 years and vice president for 8 years, for passing the laws that contain the loopholes that developers like Trump can take advantage of. Biden responded that he would eliminate the Trump tax cuts, referring to the 2017 tax cuts discussed above.
The candidates sparred over how the economy was doing under the Trump presidency and under Obama/Biden before that. Trump called the recovery under Obama slow. To judge the merit of that claim, see the GDP growth rate for the US by year.
One highlight of the debate was that Trump did not categorically denounce white supremacy groups. However, it should be noted that Chris Wallace had asked Trump the same question in 2016 and Trump had denounced them then. Trump talked about his support from law enforcement organizations around the country and accused Biden of calling African Americans super predators when he co-wrote the 1994 crime bill. This is a video of Biden warning of predators in a speech in support of his bill but there is no reference to African Americans. From a Reason magazine fact check of the claim:
The rise of criminal justice reform as a major issue in politics has made the 1994 crime bill a liability for Biden, who has since apologized for his role in tough-on-crime legislation passed in the 1980s and 90s by large bipartisan margins. In a speech last year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Biden said those bills trapped an entire generation, and that it was a big mistake when it was made.
The second debate between Biden and Trump was held at at Belmont University in Nashville, TN on October 22. There was a lot less interrupting during this debate.
Highlights of the second debate
The full video of the debate is available here and the highlights are below:
Separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents
The moderator asked Trump about the government now being unable to reunite children with their parents, who were forcibly separated by the U.S. government under the Trump administration. Trump replied that they were working very hard to reunite, but that children sometimes are brought to the U.S. by coyotes and drug cartels, not by their parents. Trump also blamed the Obama administration for building the cages where undocumented immigrants are held when they are intercepted at the border. Biden criticized Trump for the moral bankruptcy of separating kids from their parents, as well as for changing the rule for asylum-seekers so that they could not seek asylum if they are already in the U.S. but would have to do so in a different country.
Trumps alleged racism
Trump said that no one had done as much for the Black community with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. He criticized Biden for the anti-crime legislation he supported in the 1990s, which Biden admitted was a mistake. Biden cited Trumps remark asking the Proud Boys to stand back and stand down, which Biden said was a dog whistle as big as a foghorn. Trump cited the legislation he passed for criminal justice reform as evidence of things the Obama administration could have done but didnt do.
Both candidates alleged that their opponent had taken money from foreign sources. Biden cited Trumps bank account in China; Trump responded it was opened for a business deal that fell through and was closed in 2015 before he ran for office. Trump alleged that Biden was a corrupt politician whose son Hunter has accepted bribes from the wife of the mayor of Moscow.
Trump touted his repeal of the individual mandate as getting rid of the worst part of Obamacare. He promised to replace Obamacare with something great but could not provide specifics. Trump also promised to retain protections for pre-existing conditions. Biden criticized Trump and noted that protecting patients with pre-existing conditions was a key component of Obamacare, and that Trump administrations lawsuit in the Supreme Court to repeal Obamacare also implies repealing these provisions.
The individual mandate and protecting people with pre-existing conditions are two provisions that went hand-in-hand when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009. When Obama was campaigning against Hillary Clinton in 2008, both candidates had similar healthcare proposals with one difference: Clinton acknowledged that if the law forced insurers to cover patients with pre-existing conditions, it would create a moral hazard where people wouldnt buy insurance until they got sick. Insurance only works when the pool is large, and enough healthy people are in the pool. So Clinton recognized that protections for pre-existing conditions were only possible if there was also a mandate that all individuals who can afford health insurance do so. At the time, Obama opposed the individual mandate. However, the practical reality of enacting the legislation meant that the individual mandate was introduced when the law was drafted. It proved to be quite unpopular, and Trump repealed it when he took office. It is unclear how long protections for pre-existing conditions will remain in place without addressing the risk of moral hazard.
Trump vs Clinton in Opinion Polls
Over the course of 2020, Bidens lead over Trump in opinion polls has widened. A list of head-to-head match-ups for Clinton and Trump in opinion polls can be found on Wikipedia.
The BBCs poll tracker plots the median value of each candidates support in the trailing 14 days national polls.
RealClearPolitics also compiles an average of national polls, which mirrors the Wikipedia compilation above and shows Biden leading Trump consistently throughout 2020.
Another tracker of national sentiment is compiled by FiveThirtyEight.com. Their visualization also shows Biden has a lead of roughly 8 percentage points as of October 3, 2020.
It should be noted that opinion polls can paint a misleading picture. In 2016, these same models and averages showed Clinton leading Trump by 3 to 4 percentage points. And although Trump lost the popular vote, he did win the electoral vote and therefore the presidency.
On Saturday, November 7, 2020, the Associated Press called the race and declared Biden the winner with 290 electoral votes, compared with Trumps 214 (Georgia and North Carolina were yet to be called). The race hinged on certain swing states: Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump had been leading in PA, MI and WI on election night. However, Biden won after all the main-in votes were counted because he got an overwhelmingly large share of the mail-in vote.
Trump, however, has not conceded the race and plans to challenge the results of several states in court.
2020 vs. 2016 results
- Donald Trump (official campaign website)
- Joe Biden (official campaign website)
- Donald Trump - Wikipedia
- Joe Biden - Wikipedia
- 2020 United States presidential election - Wikipedia
- Nationwide opinion polling for the United States presidential election, 2020 - Wikipedia
- Fact-checking the final 2020 presidential debate - FactCheck.org
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