Biden: Eliminate tax loopholes to address poverty, expand health care

2020 presidential candidate tells anti-poverty clergy group he’d provide ‘total health care’

Democratic candidate Joe Biden speaks during the Poor People's Moral Action Congress forum for presidential candidates at Trinity Washington University on Monday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Vice President Joe Biden told a clergy-led group focused on fighting poverty Monday that the United States could afford free community college and “total health care” if it rolled back parts of President Donald Trump’s signature 2017 tax overhaul.

“We have the greatest income inequality in the ... United States of America since 1902. The fact here is, there is plenty of money to go around,”Biden said as he was the first of nine Democratic presidential candidates to address the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Action Congress at Trinity University. “This isn’t about punishment...this is just plain fairness. Simple, basic fairness and we have all the money we need to do it.”

Among other things, he said eliminating tax credits and loopholes would pay for universal access to Medicaid.

“I think everyone is entitled to have total health care,” he said. “Every single person in the United States should have access to Medicaid right off the bat.”

Jointly funded by the federal government and the states, Medicaid primarily provides health insurance to the poor. The 2010 Affordable Care Act gave states the ability to expand coverage to people earning up to 138 percent of the poverty limit. Biden’s comment contrasts him with other Democratic candidates who have called for expanding Medicare, the insurance program for people 65 and over. 

After his appearance, a Biden spokesman clarified his position, saying Biden would provide “access to a Medicare-like public option” and not charge premiums to people who would qualify for Medicaid if their states had expanded it under the provisions of the 2010 health care law.

Candidates at the forum were given a short time to speak and then handled a few questions. Asked about assistance for natural disaster relief, Biden supported the idea of putting counties that have been impoverished for 10 years or longer ahead of others when aid is awarded. He said that the areas hit hardest by natural disasters or environmental issues are often those also affected by poverty.

“The global warming that’s occurring and having impact on us and the world, it hurts everyone equally. But in the near term, it’s a gigantic unfairness to people in poverty. They live in the wake of things that are happening,” Biden said.

The former vice president is targeting unions and middle-class workers in his campaign, though made little mention of those groups. He has also faced pressure for his past support for restrictions on abortion, and earlier this month reversed his longtime support for a federal ban on abortion funding, known as the Hyde amendment. That issue also did not come up Monday.

The Poor People’s Campaign is the largest candidate forum thus far. Nine Democratic candidates gathered to field questions on a variety of topics, all related to issues of poverty. Republicans, as well as President Trump, were also invited but declined, according to organizers.