Editorial: Sanders faces high hurdles

Since Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign kickoff in late May at Burlington’s Lake Front Park, Vermont’s favorite son candidate has had a fairly tale ride to political stardom. Four months ago, no one could have predicted such an enthusiastic embrace of the self-avowed socialist democrat, who is promoting bigger government in an era deeply scarred by a conservative attack on government spending. But, as our columnist Greg Dennis writes again today on Page 5A, Bernie’s campaign has yet to be challenged on many fronts and it faces more than a few high hurdles.
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, that bastion of conservative thought highlights another vulnerability in Sanders’ campaign: the $18 trillion price tag of his proposals. It’s the obvious obstacle that will bedevil Bernie in the Democratic primary, if not in the general election, if he were to win the party’s nomination.
According to a tally by the Journal’s staff, Sanders backs “at least $18 trillion in new spending in a decade.” Most of that spending, $15 trillion, is in a government run health care system that insures all Americans — what Sanders calls Medicare for all. Not included in that amount (which is on top of current federal spending on health care) is the reduction of spending currently being made by businesses and individuals. Another $1.2 trillion would increase benefits and bolster the solvency of Social Security, and another $1 trillion would be used to rebuild roads, bridges and airports in one of the biggest infrastructure projects since the CCC days of the Great Recession. Add another $750 billion for Sanders’ college affordability program, and $319 billion to create a paid leave fund for workers.
If you’re adding up the total, chalk up another $29 billion to bolster private pension funds to prevent companies from cutting pensions and hurting employees, and $5.5 billion to create 1 million jobs for disadvantaged youth. Sanders’ $18 trillion increases total government spending from the current 20 percent of gross domestic product annually to about 30 percent, according to the WSJ.
As a comparison, Hillary Clinton has proposed programs that all together would cost about $650 billion over 10 years. Another comparison is that the two wars that George W. Bush got the U.S. into, Afghanistan and Iraq, cost the nation about $1.76 trillion through those first 10 years (according to an updated analysis done by the Washington Post in May, 2011), while his two tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 cost the treasury another $2.8 trillion in lost revenue.
While Sanders did not respond to the WSJ reporter’s request, his director of policy, Warren Gunnels, did, and largely agreed with the Journal’s estimated costs. “Sen. Sanders’s agenda does cost money,” Gunnels told the reporter. “If you look at the problems that are out there, it’s very reasonable.”
But let’s go back to the $15 trillion health care program, and what the Journal did not report. Gerald Friedman, a labor economist at the University of Mass. at Amherst, provided the $15 trillion figure for a single-payer bill (H.R. 676) introduced in 2013 by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. According to that analysis and the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. spent $2.8 trillion-plus on health care costs in 2013 alone. Simple math calculates the 10-year cost at $30 trillion over the next decade compared to Sanders’s projected cost of $15 trillion.
Yet Sanders won’t be alone in defending expensive programs. Republican billionaire Donald Trump has proposed ludicrous policies the Journal has yet to headline, and Jeb Bush’s recent proposed tax cuts amount to $3.4 trillion over the next 10 years, most of which go to the wealthiest 1 percent.
Still, Sanders has only identified about $6.5 trillion in increased revenue to cover his proposals, relying primarily on higher taxes on corporations and the very rich. He’ll have to provide a good case for his health care program for the public to believe it’s a net savings, and that’s no easy task.
We believe Sanders has good answers to most of these challenges, but the cost of these government programs and the increased taxes to pay for them will be a tough pill to swallow for the nation’s business community and the wealthiest individuals — and that will fuel big dollars into his opponents’ war chests. To counter that, Sanders will need a people’s revolution, and even so he will have formidable dragons to slay, if he is to win the nomination and election.
— Angelo S. Lynn

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