The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #2

This article picks up where part #1 left off. If you have not read the first part, please follow this link to read it first: https://theprogressivecynic.com/2016/01/26/the-progressive-cynics-case-for-bernie-sanders-part-1/

  • Bernie’s economic ideology focuses on advancing the middle class and protecting the poor. He supports policies that reverse the massive upward redistribution of wealth our country has experienced in recent years and he has a history of promoting more economic equality.

While many accuse Bernie Sanders of being in favor of “big government” and huge tax hikes, the simple fact is that he is the best candidate for fighting against income inequality. Bernie has spent his entire career championing workers’ rights, better wages, guaranteed family leave, and an expansion of the social safety net that would do a great deal to alleviate the terrible plight many in the middle class have been put into.

Bernie joins a large number of unions (ex. SEIU) and worker organizations in supporting a $15 minimum wage, imposed on a national level. As a point of principle, he supports that policy that no full time worker in the United States should be forced to live in poverty and that large businesses should not be allowed to rely on federal social programs to subsidize the poor wages that they pay (ex. Walmart workers relying on SNAP). Raising the minimum wage would reduce the strain on welfare programs, increase the buying power of the American people, and begin to close the gap between worker productivity and worker compensation:

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While Hillary supports increasing the minimum wage, she only supports an increase to $12 per hour, which is well short of a “living wage.”

Bernie Sanders would not only protect Social Security—the primary source of retirement income for a majority of Americans—but would expand the program and lift the contribution cap to stabilize the program’s finances indefinitely. Currently, individuals who have very high incomes only pay FICA taxes on the first $118,500 (ex. Bill Gates and some middle manager both pay just over $7,000 per year into the Social Security trust fund), making the tax scheme that funds Social Security extremely regressive. Bernie would lift this cap, ensuring that the very wealthy pay a full 6.2% of their income into the social security trust (instead of the 0.000063% Bill Gates pays now), which would ensure that the program remains solvent indefinitely. In fact, such a massive increase in revenue would almost certainly lead to an overall increase in benefits that would help millions of elderly Americans.

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No other candidate in the race has supported such an expansion of Social Security or redistribution of wealth from the top to the middle. While Hillary opposes cutting Social Security, she would not expand the program, and the entire GOP field is, in one way or another, promising to cut Social Security (ex. raising the eligibility, age, cutting benefits, changing the cost of living index, etc.).

On the issue of taxation, Bernie Sanders supports making the US tax code more progressive and using the revenues generated from reducing high-income and corporate tax exemptions to fund new infrastructure programs. His website contains a very concise and clear set of investments and payment streams for those programs that is summarized in the following table (with a more detailed breakdown at the link):

Plan Payment
Rebuild America Act: Sen. Sanders has proposed a $1 trillion plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructureand put 13 million Americans to work. Paid for by making corporations pay taxes on all of the “profits” they have shifted to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, which the Congressional Research Services estimates may currently create losses that approach $100 billion annually, and other loopholes.
College for All: Sen. Sanders has proposed making public colleges and universities tuition-free and substantially reducing student debt, in a plan that would cost about $75 billion a year. Paid for by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators that would generate about $300 billion in revenue.
Expand and Extend Social Security: Sen. Sanders has proposed expanding Social Security and extending the solvency of this program until 2065. Paid for by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000 so that the wealthy pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as working people.
Youth Jobs Program: Sen. Sanders has proposed a $5.5 billion youth jobs program to create 1 million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans. Paid for by ending the carried interest loophole that allows billionaire hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than nurses and truck drivers.
Paid Family and Medical Leave: Sen. Sanders has proposed at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to all workers. Paid for by a payroll tax that would total $1.61 a week for the typical American worker. According to Sen. Gillibrand’s office, this would be “a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget.”
Protect Pensions: Sen. Sanders has introduced a plan to prevent cuts to the pensions of over 1.5 million Americans. Paid for by closing two tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid taxes on money they inherit and expensive artwork they collect.
Renewable Energy and Clean Jobs Transition: Sen. Sanders has a plan to invest in clean, sustainable energy sources powered by the sun, wind and Earth’s heat. He also has a plan to provide comprehensive benefits to workers as they transition to making the solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries of tomorrow. Paid for by stopping taxpayer-funded giveaways to oil, gas and coal companies.
Sen. Sanders has introduced a plan to expand health care coverage to every American. Paid for by a 6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers, a 2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households, progressive income tax rates, taxing capital gains and dividends the same as income from work, limiting tax deductions for the rich, adjusting the estate tax, and savings from health tax expenditures.

All of these revenue numbers are highly reasonable and backed up by evidence. In fact, I would argue that they underestimate revenue, if only because spending on physical infrastructure programs would spur more employment (thus more tax revenue), investments in colleges would make the USA more competitive for highly-skilled jobs in the global market and reforming the American healthcare system would save billions of dollars a year in administrative waste.

While the exact specifics of the Sanders tax plan are subject to change (he must adapt it to gain Democratic support in the legislature), his preliminary proposal includes a 52% top marginal tax rate on individuals, taxing capital gains at the same, or higher, rates as normal income and increasing the estate tax. All of these tax reforms will predominantly affect the very wealthy and would allow the federal government to reduce deficits without asking the middle class to pay more, or accept service cuts.

While it is certainly true that Bernie plans to raise taxes slightly on the middle class (see above table) and Hillary has promised to never do so, this simple statement does not tell the whole story. Bernie will raise taxes on the middle class to pay for vital services that middle class Americans currently pay for out of pocket—the largest of these expenses are health care and college education. What Bernie is doing is raising taxes slightly in order to reduce private spending on these issues, resulting in a net-gain for those who are technically having their taxes increased. In effect, his tax “increases” simply transfer money and responsibility from private industry to the public sector, then give the average American a rebate while still providing the same quality service (savings are from more efficiency and the fact that the government doesn’t extract profits to pay stockholders or provide multi-million dollar executive packages).

An individual making $50K a year would pay $1,100 in new taxes (2.2%) to pay for his insurance while his employer would pay $3,100 for their side of the contribution (6.2%). In exchange for these “tax increases” the government will provide comprehensive insurance that replaces the private insurance on which these individuals currently rely. As the average private employer-sponsored healthcare plan currently costs individuals $4,955 (just under 10% of pre-tax income) and employers $12,591, the “tax increase” proposed by Bernie Sanders actually saves both workers and employers money. The average worker would have approximately $3.8K more income in his pocket each year, while the average employer would save approximately $9K in staffing costs. The only loser in this situation is the health insurance industry, who would lose millions of customers to the new system.

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If you are in the middle class, Hillary promises not raise your taxes, but she also has no plans to implement the programs for which these small tax increases would pay. While it may seem counter-intuitive, this is one case where tax increases put money into the pockets of the average American.

  • Bernie supports making higher education, health care, a fair wage, and retirement security human rights, rather than privileges for those who can afford them. These ideals are the direct intellectual descendants of FDR’s 2nd Bill of Rights that he never had a chance to implement.

In his 1944 State of the Union Address, FDR proposed a 2nd Bill of Rights which would have enshrined a series of progressive values in our constitution. He proposed a series of amendments that would have guaranteed six new human rights that the government would be responsible for promoting. Included in this list of new human rights were the rights to “a useful and remunerative job,” the right to a wage that provides “adequate food, and clothing and recreation” (IE. a living wage), a “decent home,” “adequate medical care,” “protections from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment” and the “right to a good education.”

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Bernie Sanders’s career has, in many ways, been defined by his pursuit of these progressive goals. He has consistently supported legislation that promotes these ideals and is now running his 2016 campaign on the promise that he will sign four of them into law.

Ensuring universal access to publically-funded free college—effectively including public universities in the existing social compact for education (which currently only goes from K-12)—would offer enormous gains. Students who attend public universities would experience a dramatic increase in buying power, families who normally couldn’t afford school would be able to send all of their children to college, and the United States would experience an increase in the number of college graduates.

While Hillary’s plan to reform public higher education is actually very good on its own merits, it falls short of classifying higher education as a right. She would make community college free, but only promises to make public colleges “debt-free,” by offering more aid to low and middle income students. She argues that this scheme is better than Bernie’s by saying that she doesn’t want to pay for the children of millionaires to go to school, but fails to mention that the children of millionaires are such a minuscule population in most public colleges that they are largely irrelevant. From a purely political perspective, this means-testing in Hillary’s plan actually makes it more vulnerable, as it is far easier to cut a “welfare” program than a universally-accessible “entitlement” program (ex. cutting Medicaid is far easier than cutting Medicare).

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Bernie Sanders proposes making access to healthcare a human right, rather than a responsibility (under the mandate) or a commodity (in the private market). He would institute a single-payer health insurance program to cover all Americans, regardless of wealth, illness, or age. This program would be paid for by an 8.9% increase in payroll taxes, 2.2% of which would be paid by workers and 6.2% of which would be paid by employers.

As previously discussed, public sector health insurance programs are more efficient than private ones and these “increases” in taxes actually save Americans money. If you can find a middle class family that only spends 2.2% of their income to pay for health insurance (the average is around 10%, depending upon the market and type of plan), I would love to be introduced to them so I can apply for this type of coverage.

On the issues of health care, higher education, the living wage, and retirement security, Bernie Sanders is clearly superior to the other candidates. The Republicans are insane, thus willing to torch what social progress has been made, while Hillary simply proposes making incremental improvements on the current system. Hillary will improve the ACA and try to make the markets work, while Bernie will completely reform the system; Hillary will help you pay for college by making it more affordable, while Bernie will make college affordable for everybody by taxing Wall Street; Hillary will support increasing the minimum wage slightly ($12/hr), while Bernie will ensure that everybody is given a living wage ($15/hr); and Hillary will protect Social Security, while Bernie will expand it.

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In each of these issues, Bernie promises to push farther and aim higher than Hillary. While he may not succeed in attaining these lofty goals, he does not preemptively compromise to cater to the GOP and his history indicates that, as long as he holds office, he will never stop fighting to push for these ideals.

Part #3 of this article series will be released tomorrow at 11AM.

7 thoughts on “The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #2

  1. Josh:
    Just reading your summary on his policies it is our remarkable good fortune to have Senator Sanders presence in this primary election. In your next post, especially if an independent candidate enters the election, I hope you can address how democrats win Sen. Sanders nomination and not lose the presidency to a centrist. I am sure that his “revolution” greatly needs legislature wins as well to accomplish an FDR-like progressive agenda.
    Steve

    Like

  2. Looking forward to part 3. Good compilation of the favor Americans have for progressive policies in your referenced story. Senator Sanders is doing a remarkable service in articulating these policies in the face of so much dissembling in politics – which seems to make him unassailable.

    Like

    • Thanks. As you can see in the polls, attacking Sanders by calling him “too liberal” and giving his actual policy positions is absolutely counter-effective. Clinton ran into this when talking about healthcare and the GOP will get routed because of this if Bernie is the eventual nominee. In effect, they will call him a socialist and accuse him of attacking Wall Street, expanding Social Security, and pushing for universal healthcare…only to have him say “yep, those are my plans.”

      As a final note, Bernie has been in media blackout by the “liberal” outlets (ex. HuffPost) because they are in the tank for Clinton. Despite this, look at how well he has done. If Bernie gets the nomination and these outlets decide to back him (as opposed to the GOP lunatic), imagine the tidal wave of positive coverage he will receive.

      I keep going back to this cartoon because it makes me laugh every time I see it: http://media.cagle.com/53/2016/01/14/174101_600.jpg

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #2 – The Revolutionary Gazette

  4. Pingback: The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #3 | The Progressive Cynic

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