By Trevor Hunnicutt
(Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday proposed expanding access to Medicare and forgiving some student debt in new overtures to supporters of onetime rival Bernie Sanders.
Biden, who became Democrats’ presumptive nominee when Sanders ended his campaign on Wednesday, is working to close ranks as his party prepares a campaign to unseat Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Biden’s new proposals include expanding Medicare, government insurance for Americans over 65, to those 60 and older. He also promises to forgive student debt for lower-income Americans who attended public colleges and some other educational institutions.
“Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas, and I’m proud to adopt them as part of my campaign at this critical moment in responding to the coronavirus crisis,” Biden said in a statement.
Democratic presidential candidates battled for nearly a year about the practicality of Sanders’ plans to forgive all federal student debt and his Medicare for All proposal providing health insurance to all Americans. Biden opposed both, offering his own slate of education and healthcare policies.
Now, Democrats are trying to tailor a message that can attract both the left flank of their own party and more conservative voters who backed Trump.
As his lead in the Democratic primaries grew, Biden pivoted to a message of unity and started to adopt some policies his rivals endorsed. Sanders on Wednesday called Biden “a very decent man, who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward.”
Maurice Mitchell, national director at the Working Families Party, a political group that endorsed Sanders, said Biden was taking “steps in the right direction.” Still, Mitchell said the coronavirus crisis was making clear a need for broader debt relief and healthcare for all.
“He’s going to have to go some steps further especially in this particular moment when there’s a crisis at a scale many of us have not experienced,” he said.
On Thursday, Biden said his new policies would help Americans hurt by the outbreak to “find more secure footing in the long term once we have emerged from this crisis.”
Biden is unlikely to broadly adopt Sanders’ signature programs like Medicare for All, according to people familiar with his plans.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)