- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2015

Questions about the true price tag and payment method for Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ expansive agenda are intensifying less than two months before the crucial Iowa caucuses, and the presidential hopeful has yet to give full answers on the taxes and spending needed to support it.

The Sanders campaign in September dismissed a Wall Street Journal report that said the senator’s platform — which includes a universal health care plan, tuition-free college, paid family leave, Social Security expansion and other progressive wish-list items — would cost $18 trillion over 10 years. Based on the proposals the Sanders campaign has put forth so far, the tax plan would bring in an estimated $6.5 trillion over the same period, leaving a more than $11 trillion gap.

Critics, including party front-runner Hillary Clinton, charge that Mr. Sanders would be forced to raise taxes on the middle class to enact his agenda. The Sanders campaign disputes that but hasn’t clearly stated how much the agenda would cost, nor has it given a complete breakdown of the tax revenue needed to pay for it.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment, though the senator from Vermont reportedly will release more details about his tax plans in the coming days.

In the meantime, Mr. Sanders‘ supporters and critics, along with political observers in the media and elsewhere, are left with an incomplete picture. Still, analysts say, it seems virtually impossible to pay for everything Mr. Sanders wants without hiking taxes on the middle class.

“I certainly don’t see how you’d be able to do that unless these universal programs are going to have some strict rationing,” said Demian Brady, director of research for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

The Clinton campaign — which has put forward its own expensive policy proposals — has latched onto the issue and has even cited the $18 trillion estimate of what Mr. Sanders‘ proposals would cost.

“Simple math dictates he’ll need to tax workers even more to pay for the rest of his at least $18 trillion $20 trillion agenda. If you are truly concerned about raising incomes for middle-class families, the last thing you should do is cut their take-home pay right off the bat by raising their taxes,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said last month.

Much of that estimate — about $15 trillion — can be attributed to Mr. Sanders‘ goal of universal health care, which the campaign argues would save taxpayers money in the long run. The campaign has tried to poke holes in other areas of the $18 trillion figure but has not offered its own firm numbers on what the candidate’s agenda would cost overall.

Mr. Sanders repeatedly has called for dramatic tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, though he has yet to lay out his exact rates.

He also has indicated that he would look at raising the nation’s net investment surtax from 3.8 percent to 10 percent, would increase payroll taxes from 15.3 percent to 15.5 percent and would apply the Social Security payroll tax to earnings over $500,000. He has raised the possibility of raising the estate tax from 50 percent to 65 percent, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation. He also wants to close a number of tax loopholes that he says benefit only major corporations and wealthy Americans, and has backed the idea of a financial transaction tax.

On Monday, he released a climate change plan that includes a proposed tax on carbon emissions.

The payroll tax increase, which would be used for paid family and medical leave, undoubtedly represents a middle-class tax hike, though progressives argue that it would be a net benefit for families.

Its merit aside, the payroll tax proposal seemingly is an acknowledgment by Mr. Sanders that he will have to go beyond the wealthy for the tax revenue he needs.

“We don’t even have to speculate whether he has to look for revenue sources beyond the top 1 percent — that’s just the case,” said Kyle Pomerleau, director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation.

Liberal groups argue that the vast majority of Americans, despite paying higher taxes, would be better off with paid family leave, free college tuition and similar benefits.

“When it comes to big ideas, whether it’s debt-free college, expanding Social Security benefits or paid family leave, all of these big, populist, progressive ideas, obviously there is going to be a cost associated with them,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for the progressive PAC Democracy for America. “But what’s oftentimes not considered by those calculating the costs is what Americans are paying right now for some of these things.”

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