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12 economic issues Biden and Trump will spar over

The primary elections are just getting started, yet it’s clear — barring health or legal disruptions — that the 2024 presidential campaign will pit President Joe Biden against former President Donald Trump.

Technically, it’s not a “rematch” of 2020, since Biden is now the incumbent and Trump the challenger. Yet voters are now deeply familiar with each man and broadly enamored with neither.

Age and fitness will be important issues, with the 81-year-old Biden and 77-year-old Trump each trying to prove he's up to the job. Trump’s legal problems will be another storyline as he navigates four criminal trials and struggles to pay more than $500 million in fines and penalties from civil litigation. Beneath the drama, however, there’s a lot at stake in 2024 for workers, investors, and business operators.

The next president will face the expiration of $3.5 trillion in tax cuts for individuals and a soaring national debt that could make further fiscal generosity impossible. Social Security and Medicare could approach the point where they run short of money, forcing policymakers to cut other types of spending or find new sources of revenue.

Here’s our condensed guide to 12 economic issues Biden and Trump will spar over as the 2024 election heats up.

Individual tax cuts. The 2017 Trump tax cuts for individuals expire at the end of 2025, which means that if Congress does nothing, Americans in most tax brackets would face a de facto tax hike totaling $3.5 trillion or so over a decade. Trump wants to extend or make permanent the tax cuts he first approved in 2017. Biden has consistently said he favors higher taxes for households earning more than $400,000 while leaving the 2017 tax cuts in place for everybody below that threshold, which is the vast majority of Americans. Unless there’s a Democratic or Republican sweep in 2024, with one party controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, this will be one of the biggest battles the next president faces.

Corporate taxes. Biden wants to raise the business tax rate from 21% to 28%, though he couldn’t get that done even when Democrats controlled Congress from 2021 to 2023. Trump wants to lower the corporate rate from 21% to 15%. It’s possible nothing could change under the next president, but at some point, the mushrooming national debt is going to require new revenue from somewhere.

Trade. Not much would change under Biden, who has left the Trump tariffs on Chinese imports in place and enacted new restrictions on sales of advanced American technology to China. Trump, however, wants to slap a new 10% tariff on all imports to the United States and boost the tariffs on Chinese imports by as much as 60% as a way to encourage more US manufacturing. Any new tariffs would raise costs on American consumers just as a nasty bout of inflation is fading.

Green energy. Biden signed into law the beefiest set of green energy incentives in US history, and many of those tax breaks are just now going into effect. Biden would obviously like to see that continue, though real-world speed bumps could force him to ease his targets for electric vehicle adoption and other green energy priorities. Trump hates EVs and wants to kill federal tax breaks for people who buy them. Even so, the Biden incentives are spurring lots of new business in Republican states and districts, which could make a broad rollback of the Biden measures unrealistic.

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In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. Biden and Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, following the failed border deal that was opposed by the Republican front-runner. (AP Photo)
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the US-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, following the failed border deal that was opposed by the Republican front-runner. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Healthcare. Biden signed into law subsidies that allow more middle-income people to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Those expire at the end of 2025, and Biden would like to keep them going. Trump is still talking about repealing the entire ACA and replacing it with some undefined plan, which Republicans tried and failed to do under Trump in 2017.

Immigration. Biden’s immigration policy is still evolving as he contemplates executive action to stem the record flow of migrants across the southwest border. He may try to impose a daily limit on the number of migrants allowed. Trump’s approach is a lot clearer. He’d once again pursue the border wall he championed as president and seek strict limits on both legal and illegal immigration.

Labor unions. Biden would continue to support federal incentives for the use of unionized labor. Trump seeks union votes but has historically been less friendly to labor.

Business regulation. Biden has strengthened regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and imposed a lot of new rules governing environmental, health, and worker protection. Trump slashed regulation when he took office in 2017 and would likely do so again.

Deficit reduction. Neither candidate has a serious plan to meaningfully reduce annual deficits and get the mushrooming national debt under control, which will almost certainly require a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. Biden says raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy will do it, while Trump says killing programs such as the Affordable Care Act would be enough. It’s going to take way more than either candidate acknowledges.

Social Security and Medicare. Both men say they’ll “protect” these popular programs for seniors, but at some point, each is going to run short of money and be unable to pay for all the benefits they promise. On current projections, that could occur in the early 2030s, forcing policymakers to finally address the government’s huge mismatch between spending and revenue.

Drug prices. Biden signed into law a new measure allowing Medicare to negotiate some drug prices with manufacturers for the first time and also capping the price of insulin for Medicare enrollees. Trump has also said he wants to lower drug prices, but he could end up friendlier to the pharmaceutical industry and not push as hard to lower prices.

Ukraine war. Biden says he’ll back Ukraine in its war against invading Russians “for as long as it takes.” He wants another $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, which Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have blocked so far this year, imperiling Ukraine’s defense. Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and said he’d end the war in one day, which can only happen if Ukraine quits fighting and accepts Russia’s territorial conquest. Trump seems to have no problem with such an outcome and would probably end or sharply curtail American support for Ukraine. That could embolden Putin and lead to further Russian land grabs.

Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman.

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