Bernie Sanders: What are the left-wing senator’s policies for 2020 presidential campaign?

Policy agenda would be unlikely to succeed with opposition from centrist Democrats and Senate

Jeff Stein
Tuesday 19 February 2019 17:10
Bernie Sanders announces 2020 presidential bid against Donald Trump

Senator Bernie Sanders will run for president proposing to enact a “Medicare for All” health care system, stave off catastrophic climate change through a “Green New Deal“ and other measures, and implement a $15 (£11.50) an hour minimum wage for all American workers, according to his aides.

Mr Sanders will also tout proposals to mandate breaking up the biggest Wall Street banks; free tuition at public colleges; lower drug prices with aggressive government intervention; new labour laws to encourage union formation; curbed corporate spending on elections; paid family and medical leave; gender pay equity; and expanded Social Security benefits for the elderly and disabled, aides said.

Mr Sanders’ criminal justice platform will include legalising marijuana, ending cash bail throughout the US, and abolishing private prisons, while he will also run on the standard Democratic policy goals of protecting young immigrants brought to the US as children and limiting the sale and distribution of guns.

Mr Sanders’ policies would require trillions of dollars in additional government spending. The senator has previously called for dramatic cuts to US military spending and a number of plans to ramp up taxes, including through heavy taxation of wealthy estates, corporations, the 1 per cent richest Americans, and off-shore tax havens. Some of his plans, like Medicare-for-All, would also require higher taxes on the middle class, though supporters say overall they would help Americans by entirely eliminating their private health care costs.

These policies are unlikely to be enacted in the form proposed by Mr Sanders even if he wins the White House, given opposition from centrist Democrats and the difficulty of moving legislation through the Senate.

The Vermont senator, who announced his bid for the Democratic presidential primary in an email to supporters on Tuesday, lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary but is frequently ranked near the top of a wide-open early primary field. Republicans and centrist Democrats have said Mr Sanders promotes socialism – Mr Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist – and that his policies would bankrupt the United States at a time of already mounting fiscal deficits.

“Every 50 years, there is someone who can fundamentally alter the course of American politics. Bernie Sanders has the chance to reorient our economic policy towards workers and communities left behind instead of corporate interests,” said representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif), who has encouraged Mr Sanders to run.

Others say a Mr Sanders nomination is more likely to get President Donald Trump re-elected, with think-tanks such as Third Way arguing “ultra-progressive” candidates did less well in the 2018 midterm elections.

Here are some of the policies Mr Sanders hopes will power him to the White House.

Medicare for all

Mr Sanders plans to campaign on a promise to move America to a single-payer “Medicare for All” system, in which every American would be enrolled on a government plan. In fall of 2017, 16 Senate Democrats co-sponsored Mr Sanders’ bill, which previously garnered zero Senate co-sponsors and was criticised by Mr Clinton’s campaign in 2016 as wildly unrealistic.

“Medicare for All” would give health insurance to the approximately 30 million Americans who currently lack it, while also eliminating all premiums, co-pay, and deductibles. US health care spending per capita is more than two times larger than the average for developed nations, despite America having below-average life expectancy at birth and lagging on a number of other key health outcomes. Single-payer advocates say one government insurer would have the bargaining power to drive down costs, while giving health care for free to those who lack it.

Critics say the plan would require prohibitive, impossibly large new taxes, and question the political wisdom of forcing nearly half the country to switch from the current private plan to a public insurer. Even Democrats who have signed onto Mr Sanders’ bill have balked at its core feature of eliminating private insurance, with senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) saying he does not favour doing so.

Mr Sanders has argued that virtually eradicating private health insurance – excepting things like “cosmetic surgery, you want to get your nose fixed,” Mr Sanders has said – is essential to preventing the costs of a Medicare-for-All system from becoming prohibitive.

Conservatives have also warned that a single-payer system could also impede quality of care for those who have it, pointing to long wait times in the Canadian system.

Drastic climate action, including the “Green New Deal”

Mr Sanders has repeatedly called climate change “the single greatest threat facing our planet,” and in 2016 campaigned on cutting carbon pollution by 40 per cent by 2013, in part through an aggressive carbon tax on pollution.

Mr Sanders will sometime in the next few months also introduce a proposal to fight climate change through a “Green New Deal,” which will similarly aim to slash emissions with an enormous public works program that would create tens of millions of jobs. The effort is moving on a parallel track to that unveiled earlier this month by representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and a number of 2016 presidential candidates in the Senate, including Mr Sanders and senators Kamala Harris, D-Calif, Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.

The upcoming Sanders plan is expected to contain significantly more details on how a Green New Deal would move America’s economy to one that zeroes out carbon emissions, according to aides to the senator, while the Ocasio-Cortez resolution supported by the other 2020 candidates mostly laid out ambitious targets for carbon reduction.

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The White House said in a recent statement that the Green New Deal would be a “central planning disaster” and a “roadmap to destroy the American economy,” with President Trump calling it “a high school term paper that got a low mark.” The Trump administration has not unveiled a plan to address climate change and Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed the scientific consensus behind it. But the plan has also faced some criticism from proponents of action to address global warming, including some who have called for a greater focus on exporting renewable energy technology to developing countries and others who have argued the problem can be addressed more cost-effectively through market-based mechanisms.

In the fall, the top scientific body studying climate change found that the world had to take “unprecedented” steps to reduce carbon levels, with the globe on pace to warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels. Scientists called the report a “deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen.”

$15 an hour minimum wage

As he did in 2016, Mr Sanders will also campaign on a national $15 an hour minimum wage for all US workers.

America’s existing $7.25 (£5.50) an hour minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, although a number of states have passed their own increases. That includes typically conservative places like Arkansas and Missouri, suggesting the policy's potential popularity with parts of Mr Trump’s base.

Critics of higher minimum wages say they drive up business costs and reduce employment, and can also cut hours for workers, according to one study on Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage. Other research has contradicted those results, with left-leaning economists questioning results showing negative impacts from Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage

In 2016, Mr Clinton pushed a $12 (£9.20) an hour minimum wage at the federal level. The number of Democrats in Congress supporting Mr Sanders’ legislation to achieve a $15 an hour minimum wage has risen from about 60 in 2015 to more than 200 in 2018, according to Mr Sanders’ aides. Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, has called the federal minimum wage a “terrible idea.”

Tuition-free colleges and universities; reduce student loan debt

Mr Sanders has pushed legislation to abolish tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities and intends to run on the plan in 2020, according to aides.

The amount of total student debt held has ballooned from $480bn (£369bn) in 2006 to $1.5 trillion (£1.15 trillion) in 2018, affecting home-ownership rates and delaying young people from starting families. A 2017 report found the price of college has increased more than 100 per cent since 2001.

Mr Sanders has also proposed cutting all student loan interest rates in half, and allowing Americans to refinance student loans at low interest rates. Researchers with the Levy Economic Institute has proposed retiring the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, a measure not embraced by Mr Sanders.

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The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan organisation, said in 2016 that Mr Sanders’ free college plan would cost about $800bn (£515) over 10 years. Mr Sanders has proposed paying for it with a transaction tax on large Wall Street firms, which would raise $600 billion over a decade, CRFB found.

Some more centrist Democrats have stopped short of calling for that dramatic overhaul of the nation’s higher education system, with presidential candidate senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) saying at a CNN town hall on Monday night, “No, I am not for free four-year college for all, no.”

Break up biggest Wall Street banks

In October 2018, Mr Sanders released an update to his plan to break up the largest Wall Street banks, barring them from holding assets worth more than $584bn (£450bn). At least six different banks -- including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup -- would be broken up by federal regulators under the proposal, which aides say is expected to play a prominent role in Mr Sanders’ campaign.

Mr Sanders touts the plan as a way to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis of a decade ago. But it has been criticised by some analysts and allies of the financial industry, who pointed to dramatic improvements in the capital cushions that banks now hold to ward against collapse. Dodd-Frank, Barack Obama‘s banking law, put new capital requirements into effect for the largest financial institutions.

Criminal justice overhaul

Mr Sanders will also be pushing a slew of measures intended to overhaul America’s criminal justice system, including to legalise marijuana, end private prisons, and dramatically reduce cash bail.

Last summer, Mr Sanders introduced legislation to end bail in federal proceedings, while giving grants to states in an attempt to get them to reduce the number of prisoners they hold on bail. In 2016, he also called for “automatic” federal investigations of deaths in police custody.

Cash bail disproportionately jails poor Americans, in particular black Americans, who cannot afford to make court-ordered payments.

Paid family leave, gender pay equity

Right now, America is alone in the developed world in not requiring businesses to give paid leave to new mothers, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. While mothers are not guaranteed time off by the government, families that do get time off from their employer tend to be more affluent, said Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Centre for Equitable Growth.

In 2013, Ms Gillibrand released a bill to create America’s first universal paid family leave programme. It would pay workers while they take time off if they have to take care of a sick child, parent or spouse; give birth to a child; or get sick themselves. Mr Sanders is a cosponsor of the bill, and talked about the need for paid family leave in his 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr Sanders has also cosponsored legislation, titled the Paycheck Fairness Act, that would bar employers from retaliating against workers who ask about their wages, as well as making employers liable to civil litigation.

The Washington Post

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