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Compare Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden on the issues

Here are six areas where Biden and Sanders have differed on how they would lead as president.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. [ TARA MCCARTY | Tara McCarty ]
Published Mar. 12, 2020|Updated Mar. 12, 2020

By announcing Wednesday that he was staying in the race for the presidential nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders assured that Florida Democrats still have a choice as the Tuesday primary approaches.

The choice remains between two vastly different visions for the future of the country.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has suggested America’s inequities and imperfections can be addressed through bolder ideas and better leadership. Sanders, meanwhile, says the injustices of the American political system can only be remedied by a radical realignment of government.

These competing cases for the Democratic presidential nomination have manifested in the ideas the two leading candidates have put forward over the past year, in debates, on the campaign trail and the plans they have presented. Here are six areas where Biden and Sanders have differed on how they would lead as president.

Health care

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders waves after speaking at a July 30 rally with registered nurses and other community leaders celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders waves after speaking at a July 30 rally with registered nurses and other community leaders celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Few issues have divided Democrats during the primary more than health care. And Biden and Sanders ideological differences in how to get coverage to all Americans.

Biden wants to build on the Affordable Care Act, the landmark policy achievement of President Barack Obama’s first term in office. How? By letting people purchase health insurance from the government, often called a “public option." This idea was proposed during the 2009 health care debate, but was abandoned because the Obama administration didn’t believe it would pass. Biden would also increase the number of people eligible for tax credits to purchase private health insurance.

Sanders, meanwhile, has consistently advocated for what he calls “Medicare for All," an overhaul of the health care system and how it’s paid for. Sanders would replace private health insurance with government-provided insurance for every American. Under his proposal, patients could go to any doctor they choose, they wouldn’t pay insurance premiums (it would be paid for with tax increases) or deductibles and copays.

Read Biden’s health care plan.

Read Sanders’ health care plan

Related: How Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders voted on 25 important bills

Environment

Crew members work on a drilling platform at a Colorado fracking operation.
Crew members work on a drilling platform at a Colorado fracking operation.

Sanders has supported the Green New Deal, the activist-driven proposal to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decade to stop climate change. His environmental plan adopts many of its ideas. It calls for all energy for electricity and transportation to come from sustainable sources by 2030, spurred by a $16.3 trillion government investment. Sanders has supported a ban on fracking.

Biden’s proposal, while more ambitious than perhaps any past Democratic nominee for president, would lead to gradually phasing out fossil fuels in a way that he says is more realistic. His goal date to eliminate fossil fuels is 2050. Biden would reverse the Trump tax cuts on corporations to pay for $1.7 trillion in “clean energy.” He doesn’t support an immediate ban on fracking.

Read Biden’s environmental plan

Read Sanders’ environmental plan

Affordable Housing

Maureen Zientek, from St. Pete, joins other Pinellas County residents gathered outside the county courthouse protesting the proposed elimination of funding for the affordable housing trust fund, the only local funding source for affordable housing, in 2009.
Maureen Zientek, from St. Pete, joins other Pinellas County residents gathered outside the county courthouse protesting the proposed elimination of funding for the affordable housing trust fund, the only local funding source for affordable housing, in 2009.

In last month’s South Carolina debate, Biden declared he would “go after those people involved in gentrification." His affordable housing plan doesn’t give much insight into what he meant. But it does propose $640 billion over 10 years in assistance for renters, eliminating the wait list for Section 8 vouchers, and reinstating federal programs eliminated or cut during the Trump administration. Like other Biden ideas, this one would be funded with higher taxes on corporations and banks.

Like Biden, Sanders would provide rental assistance to anyone who is eligible. But a Sanders administration would go further, and push for national rent control that limits how much landlords can charge tenants. And he proposes $2.5 trillion to build 10 million affordable housing units within a decade. He would pay for this with a 25 percent tax on flipping homes and a tax on vacant homes to curb speculative real estate investments.

Read Biden’s housing plan

Read Sanders’ housing plan

Related: Sign up for our weekly Florida politics newsletter

Marijuana

Marijuana plants are pictured at the Baker's marijuana nursery at Baker Medical Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Oklahoma City.
Marijuana plants are pictured at the Baker's marijuana nursery at Baker Medical Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Oklahoma City. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]

Sanders is promising to legalize marijuana within 100 days of taking office and expunging past convictions where he can. Biden has said marijuana should be a civil offense, not a criminal one and he wouldn’t go after states where it’s legal, but he wants further study before permitting recreational usage nationwide.

Read Biden’s comments on marijuana.

Read Sanders’ marijuana plan.

Immigration

Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that housed them in Homestead for a few months.
Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that housed them in Homestead for a few months. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

Biden and Sanders have both criticized the draconian immigration policies of the Trump administration, and their plans include urging Congress to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

But while Sanders has called for a moratorium on deportations, Biden’s immigration plan instead says who his administration wouldn’t deport: people with military service and undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Read Biden’s immigration plan

Read Sanders’ immigration plan

Higher education

Florida faces a challenge in keeping young college graduates with student debt. With its job market with below-average wages and an increasingly expensive cost of living, young and skilled workers may be inclined to look elsewhere.
Florida faces a challenge in keeping young college graduates with student debt. With its job market with below-average wages and an increasingly expensive cost of living, young and skilled workers may be inclined to look elsewhere.

Biden is promising debt-free community college and he would double the availability of Pell grants, a form of student aid. Under his plan, low-earning recent graduates will have more time to get their footing before they have to pay back student loans. And the federal government will forgive loans after 20 years if people make a good-faith effort to pay them back.

Sanders wants free public college for all and to cancel the student debt of everyone else. He would achieve this by taxing every stock, bond and derivative trade.

Read Biden’s higher education plan

Read Sanders’ higher education plan