"Welcome to a campaign that tells the powerful special interests that we will no longer tolerate the greed of Wall Street, corporate America and the billionaire class. Yes, we will create an economy and a government that works for all, not just the 1 per cent."- declared Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, a consummate politician and a senior member of the Senate, has been in the pursuit of the Democratic Party's nomination in the race for the president. In 2016, he unsuccessfully sought the party's nomination and for the first time in the US politics, advocated socialism to engender social justice and excoriate income inequality in the society. Though, at the end, he did not get the nomination, his message of social justice had resonated with the people.
Now Bernie Sanders is again in the race. His message is same as was in the past. He continued to highlight that the wealthy people in the society - the millionaire and billionaire- are enriching themselves at the expense of the middle class and lower income population. Sanders mentioned that 1 per cent of the population owns 90 per cent of nation's wealth. He pointed out that in the past three years, the billionaires' income increased by 36 per cent while the income of low-income groups surged by 1 per cent. He alleged that government slashed down the corporate tax from 36 per cent to 21 per cent while the middle class are subjected to more than 23 per cent of income tax. Sanders termed the tax-structure as contagion which makes the rich richer and poor poorer. He argued this must be corrected, if not reversed.
Sanders accused the government of debilitating integral components of the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA). Consequently, the ACA has turned dysfunctional. He claimed that access to health care is a human right but now about 46 million people in the United States are denied of health care. He mentioned that inflation has taken away whatever increase in income middle class have had in the past three years and many people are unable to pay for the essentials. Over 500,000 people are homeless and sleep in the streets in the cities. In many states, minimum wage of $15 per hour has not been enforced. Unemployment and underemployment amongst the youth have been on the surge. This is unacceptable in the richest country in the world.
Sanders reminded people that in 1980s Donald Trump had filed for bankruptcy and received $600 million from the banks. Amazon had done this in the past. General Motors, Chevrolets and Ford were provided "auto bailout package" in 2009 to cope with the recession. Sanders termed these as "socialism" for the rich and characterized Medicare for All as socialism for the poor. It should also be recalled that the CEOs in many companies secured excessive financial benefits from the bailout packages at the exclusion of the general employees. Bank of America received $2 billion from the Obama administration to rescue the beleaguered home owners from "foreclosures" but not many homeowners had benefitted from the package. The Bank diverted the fund to other projects. The Treasury Department subsequently imposed a penalty against the bank for its aberration.
Sanders argued that education at the colleges and universities is expensive for the students to pursue higher education. It is estimated that a student borrows $200,000 to $350,000 to defray the costs at the universities to obtain graduation degree and it would require several years to repay the debt. Sanders proposed "tuition free" education at the colleges and universities.
Sanders has a robust programme for Global Warming - called the Green New Deal. The Paris Agreement assiduously drafted by the scientists and environmentalists and signed by many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America in 2015 was a big step forward in reducing emission control and limiting use of fossil fuel for energy production. The Obama administration rendered much needed political and economic support for the deal. President Trump sadly does not believe in global warming and characterized it as a hoax. He abdicated the agreement and ceased to provide funding for the program. Though Washington has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, many states including the state of New York, California, Philadelphia and others have launched their initiatives aiming at climate change. Sanders Green New Deal will revamp the states' myriad initiatives.
Sanders election manifesto is a wish-list: passing a green new deal to address the global warming, wiping out student debt and making education free of cost, introduction of universal health care, providing housing for all, revamping criminal justice system, reforming immigration system and raising the minimum wage of $15 per hour. Sanders has not been very focused on the foreign policy but suffice it to say that he has voiced concerns against unconditional support to Israel ignoring the plight of the Palestinians. He disapproved cozy relationship with dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and appeasement policy with Russia and China.
The economists have warned that Sanders economic plan would cost over $ 54 trillion during 2021 to 2030. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if all the spending were to be covered by deficits, the federal debt would rise from $13.1 trillion in 2019 to $66.8 trillion in 2030. The economists argued that federal spending would reach 40 per cent of the gross domestic product, up from the current level of 20 per cent.
Sanders' proposal to make tuition free education and wiping out the student debt alone will cost $2.2 trillion, and its justification has been questioned. While a good per centage of students carry huge burden of debt the students from the wealthy families having annual income exceeding $250,000 should not be entitled to tuition free education. Student debt cannot be written off across the board - students from the wealthy families should not expect all debt to be paid by the government. There is a limit on how much debt the government can take on. The subsidy and reprieve on student debt should be contingent upon parents' level of income. Expansion of social security deserve a serious scrutiny. Conscientious community members disapprove the abuse of the social security benefits. Many families having reasonable income reportedly take advantage of their unreported "cash earnings" and obtain social security benefits in the form of "food stamps", rental subsidy, lunch packets etc. While expansion of Medicare and regulation of insurance companies are overdue, the American tax payers should not be burdened with the exorbitant medical bills of the non-resident alien visitors. Given strict enforcement of the Medicare directed only for legal residents, the costs would not reach the projected level of $17.5 trillion. There is no alternative to weeding out the abuse of safety net programmes to make it economically sustainable.
Despite ever increasing support of the population, people need to be assured that the liberal programmes will be affordable. It is only desirable that Sanders assign a team of experts to review the program, determine the categories of population that would need preferential treatment and compare the costs against the revenues expected from higher taxes levied on the billionaires and millionaires. Such an exercise will dispel the fear that the new spending together with current expenditure will amount to half of the GDP.
Sanders' ascendancy with progressive socio-economic agenda has galvanized the younger generation transcending ethnic and religious divide. They look toward him as a crusader against a plutocracy that has miserably failed them. Sanders' victory in Nevada last week underscored his potential to expand the coalition beyond the party workers and supporters in the party. He won 29 per cent of the whites, 51 per cent of the Latinos and 27 per cent of blacks. According to entrance polls, he won 65 per cent of voters under 30 years old. Sanders claimed, "We are bringing our people together - black and white, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans around an agenda that works for the working people of this country." The outcome of the primary at South Carolina held on February 29, was not an unexpected setback for Sanders. The super Tuesday primaries to be held in several states including Virginia on March 3 is bound to turn the tide in favor of Senator Bernie Sanders and keepit surging till the party convention in July 2020.
The writer is a former official of the United Nations.
He writes from Falls Church, Virginia, United States
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