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FactChecking Biden’s Promises ‘Kept’

This article is available in both English and Español

Este artículo estará disponible en español en El Tiempo Latino.

President Joe Biden punctuated a campaign speech in Philadelphia with the phrase “a promise made and a promise kept,” when chronicling several actions his administration has taken. But in a few cases, he hasn’t kept the promise or he misleadingly described his accomplishments.

  • Biden said the wealth gap between white and Black Americans is “the lowest it’s been in 20 years,” and he took credit. A 2023 paper from Federal Reserve Board staffers does show that the wealth ratio between white and Black families in 2022 was the smallest in 20 years, but the gap in raw dollars was the widest it had been since 1989.
  • Biden exaggerated in saying he was “keeping my promises that no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana.” He has issued pardons, but only retroactively and for people convicted under federal or D.C. laws. It’s unclear if anyone has been released from jail.
  • The president said he has kept his promise to “remove every lead pipe in America.” But that’s a “goal,” as the administration has said, that he has started to address. It’s not a “promise kept,” as Biden described it.
  • Biden rightly said he capped the cost of insulin and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare. But he inaccurately added that the provisions will save Medicare $160 billion. Instead, they will increase costs.

As we typically see in campaign speeches, the president repeated claims we’ve written about before — on billionaires’ tax rates, former President Donald Trump’s comments on “bleach” and COVID-19, and Biden’s unsupported claim that Trump “is determined to cut Social Security and Medicare.”

Biden spoke in Philadelphia on May 29. Pennsylvania, a swing state, was won by Biden in 2020 and by Trump in 2016.

The White-Black Wealth Gap

Biden said he reduced the gap in wealth between white and Black Americans.

“The racial wealth gap is the lowest it’s been in 20 years because of our efforts,” Biden said, repeating a claim that he has made before. “A promise made and a promise kept.”

Biden was accurately referring to the ratio of median Black wealth compared with median white wealth, based on data in a research paper published in October 2023 by Federal Reserve Board staffers. The report shows that in 2022, Black families had $15.75 in wealth for every $100 in wealth for white families — the smallest gap since 2001, when the ratio was roughly the same. (The paper defines wealth as assets minus liabilities.)

However, by an alternative measure, in absolute or raw dollars, Black families had a median wealth of $44,890, and for white families the median was $285,010. The difference of $240,120 was the largest gap in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1989, which is as far back as the report’s data go. The wealth gap in absolute dollars widened in 2022 despite Black wealth growing at a faster rate than white wealth, the report said.

So, one measure supports Biden’s claim and the other does not.

In an email, Moritz Kuhn, a professor of economics at the University of Mannheim in Germany, told us that “in general, there is no right or wrong measure of inequality or the racial wealth gap.” Although, economists tend to prefer using the relative, or ratio, measurement when making comparisons over time, he said.

As for why Black wealth increased in 2022, the authors of the report said that the biggest factor was growth in net housing wealth, or “the market value of a family’s home minus any outstanding loans secured by the home.” Business equity was the second largest factor, followed by a rise in “other wealth” and stocks. The paper noted that more Black families owned homes, stocks and businesses in 2022 than in some prior years.

Pardons for Federal Marijuana Offenses

Biden has issued two proclamations pardoning people convicted of federal simple marijuana possession and use charges, as well as charges in Washington, D.C. But he exaggerated the impact of his actions when claiming that he was “keeping my promises that no one should be in jail” for such offenses. The pardons apply only to federal and D.C. offenses committed on or before Dec. 22, 2023 — not offenses after that date — and it’s unclear if anyone has or will be released from prison.

“I’m keeping my promises that no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “I pardoned thousands of people incarcerated for the mere possession of marijuana — thousands. A promise made and a promise kept. And for — their records should be expunged as well, I might add.”

Biden’s Oct. 6, 2022, proclamation grants “a full, complete, and unconditional pardon” to people who were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents at the time they committed or were convicted of simple possession of marijuana in violation of either the federal Controlled Substances Act or D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1). The Justice Department explains that the pardon pertains to offenses committed on or before the date of the proclamation.

On Dec. 22, 2023, Biden issued a second proclamation to cover offenses committed up to that date, and expanded the eligible offenses beyond simple possession to include attempted possession and use.

The DOJ says that these pardons lift “barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities for thousands of people with those prior offenses.” But, as we explained in 2022, when Biden similarly exaggerated the scope of his first proclamation, the pardons don’t do anything for people convicted on state or local charges, and it’s unclear if anyone would be released from jail as a result of the pardons.

In October 2022, a senior administration official told reporters that “there are no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana.”

Simple possession of marijuana is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first-time offender. The penalties increase for repeat offenders. A January 2023 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission said that 70% of federal marijuana possession offenders were sentenced to prison from fiscal year 2017 to 2021, with an average prison time of five months.

The report also said that nearly 60% of all offenders weren’t U.S. citizens. Biden’s pardons apply to citizens and legal permanent residents only.

In the December proclamation, Biden said he encouraged “Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses and applaud those who have since taken action.”

As of May 2, 24 states and Washington, D.C., as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have legalized recreational use of small amounts of marijuana, and more allow for medicinal use, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Biden also exaggerated in saying that he “pardoned thousands of people” jailed for marijuana possession. Thousands of people are eligible for these federal pardons — in October 2022, the administration said more than 6,500 people with prior federal convictions and thousands with D.C. convictions could benefit — but they have to submit an application to get one. So far, 208 certificates of pardon have been issued, according to the DOJ webpage, last updated on June 3.

In his remarks in Philadelphia, Biden said that offenders’ “records should be expunged,” meaning the offense would be removed from the person’s permanent record. That’s something he promised for prior convictions on the campaign trail in 2020. But the pardons issued under his proclamations don’t expunge a conviction. In fact, the Justice Department says a president can’t grant expungement. Instead, it is up to the court, and it “is rarely granted.”

Lead Pipe Removal

The president said he has kept his promise to “remove every lead pipe in America.” But that’s a “goal,” as the administration has said — not what Biden described in Philadelphia as a “promise kept.”

Biden, May 29: Look, I said I’d remove every lead pipe in America so every child can drink clean water without fear of brain damage. We’re doing it. A promise made and a promise kept.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which the Biden administration refers to as the bipartisan infrastructure law, is one of Biden’s signature accomplishments. It includes $15 billion in direct funding for lead pipe replacement. So far, the $9 billion in funding announced to date is “expected to replace up to 1.7 million lead pipes nationwide,” the Environmental Protection Agency said in a May 2 press release.

However, the EPA estimates that there are 9 million lead service lines in the United States, according to the agency’s Updated 7th Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey & Assessment issued last month. As we’ve written before, the EPA estimated the average cost for full lead service line replacement at $4,700 per line. Using that estimate, it would cost more than $42 billion to replace 9 million lead pipes.

State, local and tribal governments can use other federal grant, loan and loan guarantee programs to replace lead service lines, such as community block grants and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which was created under the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, the EPA says on its website. But whether the Biden administration will “remove every lead pipe in America” is not yet a promise kept.

Medicare Savings

During the 2020 campaign, Biden promised to reduce prescription drug costs, including proposing to cap out-of-pocket drug expenses for Medicare beneficiaries, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and require Medicare to “target excessively priced prescription drugs that face little or no competition.”

In his Philadelphia speech, Biden said that he kept his promise to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare.

“Seniors with diabetes are now paying $35 [a month] for insulin instead of $400,” Biden said. “We capped total out-of-pocket costs for drugs for seniors beginning next year at $2,000 a year total, including cancer drugs that cost $10-, $12-, $14,000 a year. You pay no more than $2,000 a year. A promise made and a promise kept.”

But he went too far when he repeated his claim that reducing insulin costs and out-of-pocket expenses will save Medicare $160 billion.

“And, by the way,” Biden added, “it not only saves people money, it saves the taxpayers — guess what? — $160 billion cut in the def- — because Medicare doesn’t have to pay those exorbitant prices.”

It’s actually the opposite. Those two provisions, which are part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, will increase Medicare spending.

As we have written before, the insulin cap will cost $5.1 billion over 10 years, while the limit on out-of-pocket expenses for seniors with Medicare Part D prescription coverage will increase spending by $30 billion over the 2022-2031 period, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Overall, the Medicare provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act are expected to reduce the deficit by $237 billion over 10 years, according to CBO. That includes prescription drug negotiation provisions that would save Medicare $98.5 billion over 10 years. There’s also a projected $63.2 billion in savings by requiring rebates from drug companies if their prices increase faster than inflation. Those two provisions total about $160 billion — which is the figure used by Biden.

But most of the savings haven’t happened yet.

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