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Op-Ed | American Prospect | July 28, 2020

The 277 Policies For Which Biden Need Not Ask Permission

2020 Election/TransitionExecutive Branch

Read this article on the original website.


  • We found 277 policies that can be enacted through executive branch powers in the Biden-Sanders unity task force document.
  • 48 of the policies, or 17 percent, are rollbacks of Trump-era policy changes.
  • Immigration (78 policies), Climate Change (54 policies), and the Economy (54 policies) have the most potential executive actions.

On July 8, the Joe Biden campaign published the results of its unity task forces with the former Bernie Sanders campaign in a 110-page document of policy recommendations. Though Biden has not committed to enacting the policies recommended by the task forces, they represent the clearest consensus vision for moving a united Democratic Party into the general election, as well as a clear vision for what a Biden presidency might look like.

While each task force proposed new legislation to achieve its goals, you can also read the document with an eye toward what a Biden administration could accomplish on Day One, without having to go near Congress. To that end, we found 277 policies that are clearly within the executive branch’s power to immediately pursue, at least in part.

On their own, none of these 277 policies will fully solve any of the interlinked crises we now face. But they can go a significant way toward immediate harm reduction. Some can even solve long-standing problems, simply by enforcing or fully implementing laws already on the books.

Perhaps most important, all of these policies are ideas that leaders in the moderate and progressive wings of the party broadly agree on, and that Biden should have no excuse not to enact, save for his own policy preferences. There is no hiding behind Congress on these topics. If Biden is inaugurated, then by his first hundred days, we should expect him to have made significant progress on many, if not all, of these proposals. Those which he does not adopt and pursue vigorously will speak to his nature as a president.

Not all of the proposals are new ideas. In fact, 48 are simply calls to roll back Trump-era policies, or to reinstate Obama-era rules and committees that Trump ended or disbanded. Any remotely competent Democrat ought to be able to implement these immediately, no matter what their particular policy vision.

Of those 48 Trump policies that the document calls to roll back, 28 are shifts in immigration policy. The overrepresentation of immigration issues speaks to the extent and the horror of Trump and Stephen Miller’s xenophobic project.

Each of the six unity task forces proposed executive branch policies. From most to least, the issue areas were:

  • Immigration (79 policies)
  • Climate Change (56 policies)
  • The Economy (55 policies)
  • Education (39 policies)
  • Criminal Justice (36 policies)
  • Health Care (27 policies)

Some policies come from simply exerting the legal discretion at the administration’s disposal. What if instead of facilitating The Golden Age of White Collar Crime, Biden’s attorney general prosecuted Big Oil for pollution law violations, and “aggressively pursued” employers who steal wages, break labor law, misclassify workers, or cheat on their taxes? What if they descheduled marijuana and directed federal drug authorities not to pursue marijuana cases? What if the DOJ restarted Obama-era “pattern or practice” investigations into racist police departments, then broadened the practice to look at prosecutors and other criminal justice actors? Each of these policies is in the unity document.

While the Biden camp isn’t ready to embrace blanket federal student loan forgiveness, the document does call for pausing interest and monthly billing on those earning less than $25,000, forgiving debts of the permanently disabled, and forgiving students exploited by predatory schools. It also finally sets clear rules for automatic enrollment in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and strongly hints at ending the federal government’s contract with Navient.

That brings us to federal contracting powers. The document calls for a “Buy Clean” program to mandate the government buy clean energy produced with high labor standards. It also calls for across-the-board prioritization of contracts with small businesses owned by women, veterans, and people of color. Those owners better take care of their workers, though, since Biden can require labor law compliance be taken into account in any federal-contracting decision (which somehow wasn’t a factor already). Plus, he can bar any company that outsources jobs, busts unions, or doesn’t provide a $15-per-hour minimum wage from doing any business at all with the federal government.

But most exciting for some is the evidence that Democrats are dusting off their copies of the American legal code and looking for forgotten powers already on the books. Antitrust enforcement has gone from a non-issue to a central plank: The task force calls for a full review of Trump-era mergers and acquisitions, and to take action on those that caused “harm to workers, raised prices, exacerbated racial inequality or reduced competition.” That’s a direct call for antitrust to break out of the shackles of the consumer welfare standard.

The unity task force also wants public data on police use of force—data which the Department of Justice is supposed to gather anyway, but never actually has. Perhaps that will change soon. Multiple task forces also called for aggressive enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act; many activists have reflected in recent days on how its promises were never fully realized, and some Democrats seem to be listening.

Of course, there’s also discrimination within the federal bureaucracy itself. The Department of Agriculture’s horrific civil rights record has been the subject of investigations and hearings since at least 1999. The task force document lays out a series of thoughtful reforms to USDA, from greater independence for the Civil Rights Division to reforming a credentialing process that has barred farmers of color from passing on their property.

We predict that these agencies and departments will be most involved in enacting the 277 policies (from most to least):

  • Department of Homeland Security (59 policies)
  • Department of Justice (56 policies)
  • Executive Office of the President (37 policies)
  • Department of Labor (26 policies)
  • Department of State (21 policies)
  • Department of Energy (17 policies)
  • Department of Agriculture (15 policies)
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (13 policies)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (13 policies)

As the Biden transition team begins sending “beachheads” into the agencies, and wannabe appointees jostle for influence, we hope that this quick guide will help a would-be Biden administration’s leaders to mentally organize for the task ahead. There is an overwhelming amount of Trumpian corruption to be swept out, and we face so many overlapping existential threats that there’s no time to delay. The Biden transition must prepare as much as it can in advance to enact sweeping policy changes come Inauguration Day.

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