Politics & Policy

Democrats’ Radical $3.5 Trillion Agenda

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, October 3, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

We previously warned Republicans against supporting a smaller infrastructure deal with Democrats, because it was always part and parcel of the broader effort to pass a sweeping liberal agenda. Sure enough, after 18 Republicans voted to advance the so-called infrastructure compromise over the weekend, Democrats responded on Monday morning by unveiling a radical $3.5 trillion proposal meant to transform the United States into a place more closely resembling a European social-welfare state.

One of the characteristics that has distinguished the U.S. has been the fact that a critical mass of Americans have always believed that the government cannot or should not attempt to solve all of its citizens’ problems. Of course, we are far removed from having a Congress that narrowly follows its enumerated powers, or from an interpretation of the Tenth Amendment that defers most questions to the states. But skepticism of centralized power, in addition to the checks and balances inherent in our form of government, has prevented the U.S. from going as far in intervening in people’s lives as the governments of other Western nations do.

Democrats have always seen this reality as a bug — not a feature — of our constitutional structure, and they have long been frustrated by the fact that the U.S. has not emulated other countries with as robust of a welfare system. While the Democrats’ current reconciliation proposal would not turn the U.S. into Europe overnight, it would take a huge leap in that direction.

What’s important to keep in mind about the Democratic proposal, released by socialist Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders, is not merely that it spends an exorbitant sum of money, but that it creates new programs that would permanently change the relationship between Americans and their government from birth until death. And Democrats will be able to pass it without a single Republican vote, bypassing the Senate filibuster, as long as they can get around the Senate parliamentarian.

If Democrats get their wishes and pass the entire bill, more children would end up in child care subsidized by the federal government and progress into federally funded universal pre-K. The bill then makes available tuition-free community college, and increased assistance toward four-year college programs. And it also adds, further along life’s spectrum, federally paid family and medical leave as well as more federally financed public housing.

The bill would expand Obamacare’s subsidies for purchasing health insurance and then create a new government-run health-care program for low-income individuals living in states that chose not to expand Medicaid. And for seniors, the plan promises to add a new dental, vision, and hearing benefit to the unsustainable Medicare system as well as more money for home and community-based care.

Beyond expanding the cradle-to-grave welfare system, the resolution would also address other liberal priorities. It would make a down payment on the Green New Deal by promising to create “environmental justice and climate resilience.” It would aim to achieve this in a variety of ways, including with wasteful clean-energy programs and a “Civilian Climate Corps” that would enlist thousands of young Americans to work on climate-change mitigation projects. Additionally, it would attempt to stretch the procedural mechanism of reconciliation to expand immigration by providing millions of green cards to illegal immigrants.

The bill, it should be noted, would come on top of the $6 trillion that was spent in response to COVID-19 and in addition to the half trillion dollars in new spending Democrats just advanced with Republican assistance. Were the full agenda to get through, it would mean that Washington would have enacted $10 trillion in new spending since the start of the pandemic less than 18 months ago. This at a time when President Biden’s own budget is projecting that debt as a share of the economy will surpass World War II levels to reach the highest point in American history.

This brings us to one area of the European system that Democrats are not so eager to highlight. And that reality is that European countries that have vast welfare states impose much higher taxes on middle-class workers, including in the form of regressive VAT taxes. Democrats know that, were they to actually pay for their vision, it would hit suburbanites who are now a core part of their coalition. So they are claiming that they’ll be able to achieve their agenda just by asking the super wealthy to pay a tad more. Though the proposal is vague on details, it promises to hike taxes on corporations and “high-income individuals” (a cutoff that Biden has previously defined as $400,000, while offering conflicting signals as to whether that threshold refers to individuals or households). In order to give themselves wiggle room, the reconciliation instructions allow for $1.75 trillion, or half of the new spending, to be financed through additional debt. Given that Republicans just voted for a $550 billion bill that will be nearly halfway deficit-financed, it’s hard to be surprised.

As a result of their slender majorities in the Senate and House, they have no margin for error. The allegedly moderate Democrats in both chambers have the power to stop this bill in its tracks, and if they wish to be known as anything other than enablers of their party’s radicalism, they should do so without compunction or apology.

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