News: CJ Exclusives

Biden administration could push leftward on school choice, health care in N.C.

With President Biden in the White House and Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, conservatives are bracing for a flurry of policy changes on issues they care about.

Already, the Biden administration has unleashed nearly two dozen executive orders related to immigration, climate change, and gender identity.

When Congress comes back into session, there will undoubtedly be more activity. While North Carolina is insulated from the federal government on a number of issues, there could still be some major changes coming.

In many cases, the Biden administration will support policies also pushed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who has so far been held off by a Republican-led General Assembly.

Here’s a look at how the Biden administration could direct policy in the areas of school choice, health care, energy, and the economy. 

School Choice

The U.S. Department of Education was firmly in favor of school choice under Secretary Betsy DeVos, who publicly backed charter schools and opportunity scholarships that help low-income children attend private schools.

That emphasis tied in well with North Carolina’s trajectory as the state became an epicenter of the charter school movement. After the General Assembly lifted the statutory cap on the number of charter schools that could operate, which was set at 100 under Democrats, the number of charter schools blossomed to more than 200. The General Assembly also created its own Opportunity Scholarship program.

Biden has almost the opposite perspective. He’s closely tied to teacher’s unions and branches of the National Education Association, and has said he will prioritize traditional public schools in his approach to education policy. 

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said he hopes North Carolina will be able to continue to expand school choice through state and local policy.

“North Carolina continues to serve as an example for our nation as to how we can better empower families in our state with the educational options that are best suited to serve their children,” he told Carolina Journal. “We hope that the Biden administration will take to heart what we believe here in North Carolina; more options combined with parental empowerment leads to greater educational success for our children.”

Biden has called for a ban on federal funding for charter schools operated by for-profit companies and supports measures to “increase accountability” for charter schools.

He has also staked out a position against “private school vouchers,” the term school choice opponents use for opportunity scholarships. The Biden administration could join Cooper, also a school choice opponent, in seeking to block North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program.

There is precedent: The Obama administration’s Department of Justice filed suit to block Louisiana’s voucher program, though it ultimately dropped the case.

“We anticipate a continued campaign by Governor Cooper to phase out school choice in the Tar Heel State — specifically the Opportunity Scholarship Program — and to use it as a wedge in debates with the legislature,” Long said. “However, we will continue to work across the aisle in support of school choice, because despite some opposition we believe school choice can truly be a bi-partisan issue in North Carolina.”

Health care

Over the past few years, the General Assembly has worked to increase access to health care primarily through the private market. One key piece of legislation was Senate Bill 86, which allowed Association Health Plans to form in North Carolina. This helps small businesses to band together to offer health benefits to their employees.

It’s unclear how the Biden health care plan will affect these goals. The Biden administration is likely to expand on Obamacare, which made Association Health Plans nearly impossible. 

Biden’s plan includes expanding the Affordable Care Act, reimposing the individual mandate to buy insurance, and creating a public option on the Obamacare exchanges. 

Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, said their office would wait to comment to see what specifics were rolled out.

However, the Biden plan also includes some provisions that match what North Carolina has worked toward, including lowering prescription drug pricing and stopping surprise billing from hospitals. The latter has drawn support from some members of the General Assembly, including Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, who introduced Senate Bill 386 in the last session.

Energy

Energy policy has largely been a back-burner issue since Cooper took office in 2016. The General Assembly has pursued little legislation in the area, other than a law that requires utilities like Duke Energy to buy more renewable energy, such as solar power.

Cooper has regularly pushed clean energy goals for North Carolina, and also negotiated a payment with Duke Energy in connection with getting approval for permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline has since been canceled

Energy might get a renewed focus under the Biden administration, and the impacts will certainly reach North Carolina. Biden has already re-entered the United States into the Paris Climate Agreement, a non-binding compact to make plans to mitigate global warming that President Trump had exited.

North Carolina, in fact, never left. As Cooper and Trump took office at the same time — when Trump canceled the deal, Cooper said North Carolina would remain a part of it.

While Cooper has largely been stymied by a Republican state legislature, Biden could have a lot more impact on energy policy. He simply has more power.

“There’s no question that Biden has a lot more authority through the EPA and Congress than Cooper ever did,” said Donald van der Vaart, senior fellow in Environmental Policy at the John Locke Foundation. “What that means is there will be higher energy costs for all Americans and there will be redistribution of wealth.”

Like Cooper’s goals, Biden’s energy policy is likely to lean heavily into “clean energy.” His proposed plan calls for pumping $2 trillion into building upfits, transit, infrastructure, and power generation — all using union labor. 

He has also signaled his support for a carbon tax levied on emissions.

“That will immediately raise energy prices and raise prices for all our commodities,” van der Vaart said. 

Economy

North Carolina has become one of the best states in which to do business, as the General Assembly has steadily lowered tax rates and reduced the regulatory burden on businesses. That progress could be undone by the Biden administration.

Biden has said he will raise corporate taxes, which will make North Carolina and the rest of the country less competitive in the global marketplace. He would also rase individual income tax rates on at least people making $400,000 or more.

The Biden plan also calls for a $15 federal minimum wage, which Cooper has called an “admirable goal.” North Carolina follows the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. 

Research from the Heritage Foundation has found that a $15 minimum wage would destroy roughly 330,000 jobs in North Carolina.

Andrew Dunn is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.