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The next two weeks in the Democratic primary have everything on the line: The nomination, the opportunity to face President Donald Trump, and the direction of a party torn between its left and center wings. And the contrast between the two remaining candidates couldn’t be more stark.
Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ similarities end at their age (77 and 78, respectively) and decades of experience in Congress. Biden, the frontrunner with 664 delegates after a strong Super Tuesday performance, represents the party’s business-friendly old guard and, in his view, a return to normalcy and expansion on the legacy of Barack Obama.
Sanders, on the other hand, spent decades on the party’s fringe as an independent democratic socialist. Since his primary campaign in 2016, he’s led the left’s resurgence, with a furious demand for progressive action on almost every issue of the day, and a grassroots movement to enact it. He’s currently trailing Biden by a sizable but surmountable 91 delegates.
You’d be hard-pressed to find two more ideologically incompatible people to seek the same party’s nomination for president: the grumpy anti-capitalist versus a man once labeled the “Senator from MBNA.” . And ahead of crucial primaries on March 10 (Michigan, Missouri, Washington, Mississippi, Idaho, and North Dakota) and March 17 (Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona), where recent polling shows Biden has the opportunity to all but clinch the nomination, both are looking to emphasize their differences to win the nomination and shape the future of the Democratic Party.
The largest difference between Sanders and Biden is on healthcare. Sanders favors a Medicare for All plan, guaranteeing healthcare as a human right by insuring people through the federal government rather than private insurers. Sanders argues that his plan will have no copays, premiums, or deductibles, and would be paid for via taxes that would ultimately come out to a smaller cost to employees than their current healthcare plans.
Biden, like much of the rest of the Democratic field, has repeatedly attacked Sanders’ plan as too costly and disruptive to the system. Biden, who had a front seat to the fight over the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, wants to make more modest changes to the existing system.
The centerpiece of his plan is, essentially, finishing the job former President Barack Obama started: adding a public option, expanding Medicaid (though that’s up to the states), and investing more in subsidies so people can buy ACA plans. But as critics — like former candidates Julián Castro and Kamala Harris, who endorsed Biden over the weekend — have pointed out, Biden’s plan would still leave 10 million people uninsured.
Foreign policy is the area in which American presidents have most leeway to enact their agenda, and from the jump, Biden has signaled that, after four years of President Donald Trump, remaking America as a defender of liberal democracy would be his main goal.
Take this December ad, for example, which highlights incidents where Trump was laughed at by essentially the entire United Nations and, more privately, by the leaders of some of the U.S.’s closest allies.
Sanders, on the other hand, is seeking a break from the foreign policy establishment as a whole. Throughout the primary, he’s criticized Biden relentlessly for his 2003 Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq, and has emphasized his own role in leading the Congressional effort to end funding for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen last year. In addition, Sanders has signaled a more balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict and called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s treatment of Palestinians racist, which has earned him the ire of the Israeli government and AIPAC.
Sanders is a supporter of the Green New Deal, the bold proposal put forward by surrogate and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey to combat climate change and reshape the American economy. Sanders’ plan calls for reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation within 10 years — a UN report released last year says 2030 is the final chance we have to prevent irreversible damage from climate change — and to create 20 million new jobs in order to achieve it. Sanders also proposes a long-sought “just transition” for fossil fuel workers and environmental justice for frontline communities.
Biden’s plan, like Sanders’, calls for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Under Biden’s plan, the U.S. would reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and invest $1.7 trillion into climate and environmental justice efforts. Biden also emphasizes his early advocacy on the issue, and has stressed that he was one of the first members of Congress to propose a bill to mitigate the effects of global warming.
Student loan debt
Sanders, in a retread from his 2016 campaign, has proposed making all public colleges and universities tuition free. He’s also introduced a bill along with progressive freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar and campaign surrogate to essentially eradicate student debt from America, canceling all outstanding $1.4 trillion in it.
Biden, in contrast, has proposed making community college tuition-free and increasing Pell grants, while capping student loan bills at 5% of borrowers’ discretionary income over $25,000.
One of the starkest differences between the two candidates is an issue which has rarely come up over the past year: Housing.
Sanders, reflecting the efforts of local tenant advocates, the Democratic Socialists of America, and others in places like California and Washington D.C., is proposing a national rent control law, capping annual rent increases at 3%, and introducing new taxes on “house-flipping.” He also proposes spending $2.5 trillion to create up to 10 million new “permanently” affordable housing units. In a more traditional move, Sanders also proposes investing $8 billion into helping first-time homebuyers.
Instead of wide-ranging, Great Society-esque reforms, the former vice president seeks to use mostly existing tools to make housing affordable: expanding the Community Reinvestment Act, enforcing regulations and laws against discriminatory lending, and fully funding Section 8. Notably, Biden also wants to create something called the Public Credit Reporting Agency within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which he argues would make credit reports fairer.
Cover: From left, Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C., co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)