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Joe Biden and his advisors are talking about possible infrastructure plans as a potential 2020 White House run takes shape

Key Points
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden has been actively meeting with his closest advisors about his preferred economic policies, including crafting an infrastructure reform package that could be part of his 2020 campaign if he decides to run for president.
  • An emphasis on infrastructure would give Biden an opportunity to directly challenge Donald Trump on a key aspect of the president's "Make America Great Again" agenda.
  • "We would approach this community by community. If you talk to somebody about the water in Flint, Michigan, or a bridge in Erie, Pennsylvania, you can personalize it," said one of the people who has spoken to Biden about infrastructure.
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures speaks at the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been actively meeting with his closest advisors about his preferred economic policies, including crafting an infrastructure reform package that could be part of his 2020 campaign if he decides to run for president, CNBC has learned.

An emphasis on infrastructure would give Biden an opportunity to directly challenge Donald Trump on a key aspect of the president's "Make America Great Again" agenda. Trump ran on improving the nation's roads, bridges and tunnels, but those policies have yet to take shape as the administration's $1 trillion infrastructure plan failed to gain traction.

Some of Biden's allies have suggested to him that he should make this a personal issue for voters if he enters the Democratic primary race, according to people directly involved with the matter. Biden, according to those familiar with the conversations, has appeared open to the idea of having infrastructure be one of the pillars of his campaign if he were to run.

"We would approach this community by community. If you talk to somebody about the water in Flint, Michigan, or a bridge in Erie, Pennsylvania, you can personalize it," said one of the people who has spoken to Biden about infrastructure. "This is going to be a very important plank in what Joe's going to be advocating," this person added.

The 76-year-old Biden has said in the past that the country needs to increase its infrastructure spending.

"Build, build, build, build. ... We built the transcontinental railroad," Biden said at an event in 2014 hosted by CG/LA Infrastructure. "[We] built a thing called the Erie Canal. ... Ladies and gentlemen, we always have to build. That's who we are."

Biden has been asking his team to keep an eye what's being proposed by other 2020 contenders and to take note if they are discussing how to go about paying for some of their ideas.

"He wants to be kept apprised with all these policy developments and one of these things that he cares about is their decision on how we are going to pay for it," a Biden consultant told CNBC, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

This person would not explain which specific ideas they're tracking but cited the "eye popping" estimated price of the sweeping Green New Deal environmental policy plan, proposed by freshman liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A study produced by the conservative think tank the American Action Forum showed that the climate change proposal could cost between $51 trillion to $93 trillion over 10 years. A Medicare-for-all plan, which has been championed by 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and others, has been estimated to cost $32 trillion to $33 trillion.

Presidential candidates who have come out in favor of a Green New Deal include Sanders and fellow Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar.

Biden and his team privately have also gone through other various positions that the former vice president has supported in the past, including cutting taxes for the middle class and bettering income inequality, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. These people say such ideas have not been crafted into an official 2020 platform, but they are under consideration to be part of his agenda if he were to run for president.

A spokesman for Biden declined to comment.

As for an announcement timeline, Biden continues to lean toward a run for president but has not made a final decision. He has publicly confirmed to be in the "final stages" on deciding his next steps. CNBC reported last month that Biden has been actively talking with top party donors about potentially entering the growing 2020 primary. He's also been speaking with social media experts for guidance on how best to appeal to young voters through a variety of online platforms.

Taxes and spending

For Biden, his continued analysis and efforts on affordable government spending fits is in line with his long record of public service. It's also one of the reasons he will be considered a centrist candidate if he enters the 2020 arena.

While he was vice president under President Barack Obama, he worked with Congress to cut over $1 trillion in federal spending over 10 years.

"We're determined to continue in a balanced way to cut our debt in the coming years and have made significant strides towards that goal," Biden told an audience at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in 2013. "Last year, with the help of my colleagues in the U.S. Congress, we reached a difficult agreement on reducing our spending over the next 10 years by close to $1 trillion."

He has also repeatedly called for a middle-class tax cut and for lawmakers to focus on closing the income gap. At the Brookings Institution in Washington last year, Biden addressed the ongoing struggles for middle-class families.

"We have to deal with the tax code. It's wildly skewed toward taking care of those from the very top. It overwhelmingly favors investors over workers and it's ridiculed with unproductive expenditures," he said then. At the University of Pennsylvania in February, he called the tax plan passed by Republicans "God awful."

When Biden discusses income inequality, he sometimes makes a point of distancing himself from leftists like Sanders, and he doesn't blame billionaires for the wealth gap.

"I love Bernie but I'm not Bernie Sanders. I don't think 500 billionaires are the reason why we're in trouble," Biden told the crowd at Brookings last year. "I get in trouble with my party when I say wealthy Americans are just as patriotic as poor folks. I found no distinction, I really haven't, but this [income] gap is yawning."

Sanders' platform has taken aim at the wealthiest Americans, and he has argued that politicians are too often influenced by special interest groups. One of the areas the two seem to agree on is providing free community college tuition for all and having it paid for through a higher tax on the wealthy.

Still, the early polls seem to favor Biden's more moderate approach.

A Morning Consult poll continues to have him in the lead with early primary state voters. The survey shows Biden has support from 31 percent of voters versus Sanders' 27 percent. Meanwhile, Trump is losing steam in the historic swing state of Florida, where Biden has an early lead over others who have already entered the race.

According to a survey by Bendixen & Amandi International, only 40 percent of Florida voters believe Trump should be re-elected for a second term while 53 percent think otherwise. Biden captured 26 percent on whom Floridians want to vote for in the Democratic primary. However, 46 percent say they are undecided.