US elections: Biden vs Trump from a co-operative perspective

What do the candidates offer for the movement?

With the US presidential election due to take place next month, co-operatives in the US and other countries will be wondering what the two candidates have to offer them. 

A close look at the policy proposals put forward by Joe Biden and Donald Trump can help to answer some of their questions. 

Joe Biden

His economic policies, announced under his “Build Back Better” plan, include raising the federal minimum wage to US$15 (£11.50) an hour, a $300bn investment from the federal government in US-made materials, services, research and technology and creating a business support programme for minorities through a $30bn investment fund. These policies could indirectly impact co-operatives across different sectors.

He is further proposing a $1.7tn federal investment in green technologies research, over the next 10 years, with the aim of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, something co-operatives looking to invest in greener alternatives may be able to benefit from.

Mr Biden plans to expand Obamacare through a plan that would ensure 97% of US citizens. But while Obamacare created 23 health care consumer oriented and operated plans to increase competition, Mr Biden pledges to create a public health insurance option like Medicare. It is worth noting that the majority of the consumer oriented and operated plans created under Obamacare were unable to survive faced with competition from larger providers, especially since they tended to attract those who were not already ensured, earned less and had more health problems.

In terms of immigration, Mr Biden promises to reverse President Trump’s policies of  separating parents from their children at the US-Mexican border and limiting the number of applications for asylum. Furthermore, he will go back to a policy implemented under president Obama which allowed 650,000 young people who entered the US without documents as children to stay in the US, as well as make them eligible for federal student aid.

Over the past couple of years the number of worker co-operatives in the US has increased, largely driven by immigrant workers setting up co-operative businesses as a means to secure work. Current legislation prevents undocumented people from obtaining job permits but they are allowed to be a business owner, including a member of a worker co-operative. These worker owners will likely benefit from Mr Biden’s measures.

Mr Biden also promises to extend the right to organise and bargain collectively to independent contractors and ensure workers in the “gig economy” and beyond receive the legal benefits and protections they deserve. However, no mention of co-operatives as a means to empower them is made.

He pledges to “create new opportunities to support deployment of methane digesters to capture potent climate emissions and generate electricity”, which, he claims, would enable family farmers to benefit and “help lead the Clean Energy Revolution”, something agricultural co-operatives might be interested to know more about.

To build the next generation of electric grid transmission and distribution, Mr Biden says he will “prioritise re-powering of lines that already exist with new technology. He says he will “leverage the breakthroughs in energy storage over the last decade with historic procurement and investments to bring the future within reach for big utilities and rural co-operatives”.

Details on how this will work in practice are yet to be released. Even so, electric co-operatives may be able use this pledge as an opportunity to request support for new technology. The sector plays an important role in powering rural communities across the country.

Mr Biden also promises double funding for the State Small Business Credit Initiative created under the Obama/Biden administration to drive close to US$30bn of private sector investments to small businesses, especially those owned by women and people of colour. Some worker co-operatives may be able to benefit from such a measure.

Two clear co-operative commitments

One of the two major co-operative commitments made by Mr Biden is to explore the use of land trusts, co-operative farm operations, and farm credit systems geared towards black, brown and, native American farmers as a means to support this population and diversify our agricultural sector.” With this pledge, he recognises the role co-operatives play in empowering ethnic communities across the country.

He also promises “to explore the use of land trusts, co-operative farm operations, and farm credit systems geared towards Latino, black, and, native farmers as a means to support this population and diversify our agricultural sector”. 

Aside from his campaign pledges, Mr Biden is a well-known supporter of credit unions, having championed their role in development through the Development Education (Biden-Pell) Project Grant. His contribution to the credit union movement inspired the Joe Biden Development Educator Awards granted by the International Credit Union leadership development and Education Foundation. The grant was used by voluntary organisations in the US to fund programmes that educate the public about major development issues related to hunger and economic issues primarily in developing countries.

Donald Trump

President Trump makes no specific references to co-operatives or credit unions in his pledges. His campaign centres around the idea of continuing the work started during his first mandate. He has already cut corporate and income tax, rolled back federal regulations on businesses and hundreds of environmental protections.

He has withdrawn from the Paris Climate agreement but this will only be formally completed after November’s election. The replacement of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan enabled coal plants to continue operating longer, a move supported by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). 

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act adopted in 2018 has reversed some restrictions imposed under the Dodd-Frank Act post 2008. It is likely that Mr Trump would pursue further deregulation within the financial sector, a measure some credit unions would welcome. In the past the sector has complained about the disproportionate burden regulation places on smaller credit unions.

President Trump promises to continue to protect local manufacturers from foreign competition and offer tax credits to entice US firms to move factories out of China. He has already imposed tariffs on goods from the European Union and other countries. He also maintains his pledge to build a border wall on the US-Mexico border.

His bid to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) was rejected by the Supreme Court this summer, but it is likely that his efforts to make it harder for undocumented migrants would continue should he be re-elected, which might pose difficulties for some members of worker co-ops.

He is also likely to continue his fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act adopted under the Obama administration.

How have co-operatives responded to the pledges?

In the run-up to the November election, co-operative apex bodies have focused on encouraging co-ops and their members to register to vote.

NCBA, NRECA and the US Federation of Worker Co-operatives and and the Democracy at Work Institute, who have been leading a campaign to inform members about the registration process, encouraging them to vote, in line with co-operative principle two of democratic member control.

In addition, the credit union sector shared its priorities with the two candidates through a letter sent by NAFCU president and CEO Dan Berger in August.

To help credit unions continue to grow and serve their communities, Mr Berger proposes six priorities: supporting legislation and regulation that helps credit unions grow membership, loans and retained earnings; promoting innovation and establishing regulatory standards for fintech and data security; providing regulatory relief to credit unions; preserving credit unions’ federal tax exemption; encouraging government transparency and accountability; and pressing for the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) to be the sole industry regulator and ensuring it listens to credit unions’ voices and concerns.

NAFCU says it looks forward to working with the two candidates to address these concerns for credit unions and we would welcome the opportunity to engage with them.

Another apex body, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), has responded to Mr Biden’s decision to choose Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) as his running mate.

CUNA president and CEO Jim Nussle said: “While CUNA does not endorse presidential candidates, we congratulate Senator Kamala Harris on her selection as the Democratic nominee for vice president. During her tenure in the Senate, Senator Harris has proven that she understands the important role credit unions play in improving consumers’ financial well-being and advancing communities by supporting legislation that enables credit unions to better serve small businesses and underserved consumers.

“The amount of attention that today’s announcement is receiving underscores the energy voters feel going into this November’s election, and illustrates how crucial it is for every eligible credit union member to make their voice heard this fall.

“We encourage Americans to use to make sure they’re registered, learn more about their options for early voting and voting by mail, and find out who will be on their ballots.”