- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2015

Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ socialist views have made him a colorful and enticing presence in the Democratic presidential race, but he’s under increasing pressure to explain his political philosophy as his plans for massive social programs and huge tax increases start to sink in with voters.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent who calls himself a democratic socialist, makes no bones about his intention to remake America in the model of Scandinavian welfare states, where residents pay higher income taxes and payroll taxes than in the U.S. and enjoy benefits such as universal health care and a government-sponsored college education.

“I think there are a lot of people who, when they hear the word ‘socialist,’ get very, very nervous,” Mr. Sanders told reporters at a weekend campaign stop in Iowa, adding that he was planning a major speech to explain how the label applies to him.

“To me, democratic socialism means democracy,” he said. “It means creating a government that represents all of us, not just the wealthiest people in the country.”

In that vein, he has proposed more Social Security benefits for retirees, a Medicare-for-all health insurance program, taxpayer-financed universal child care and pre-K, free college tuition for most students and paid sick leave and family leave benefits for all workers.

The price tag on this package of perks — which is estimated to run in the trillions of dollars — would be paid with new taxes on the wealthy, corporations and Wall Street transactions, according to the Sanders plan.

“This would be at least as big an increase in the size of government as the New Deal or the Great Society, and, of course, each of these comes on top of the other, so I would regard it as a big change,” said David W. Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University.

Mr. Rohde, an expert on American national politics, said general election voters and Democratic primary voters probably are not ready for the new social contract offered by Mr. Sanders.

“I don’t think a majority of even Democrats would find a shift of this magnitude desirable,” he said.

Still, Mr. Sanders‘ far-left agenda struck a chord with the party’s liberal activists and young, wealthy and college-educated voters, many of them getting involved in politics for the first time in their lives. It made the 74-year-old curmudgeon a fundraising powerhouse and the chief rival to front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

His sweeping proposals include:

Medicare for all.

Mr. Sanders wants to open to every American what he describes as the “popular and successful” health care program for seniors, creating a European-style single-payer system and making health care a right.

“The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people,” Mr. Sanders said in announcing his plan earlier this year. “Meanwhile, we spend far more per capita on health care with worse results than other countries. It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American health care system.”

The Wall Street Journal estimated that the Medicare-for-all program alone would cost $15 trillion. The Sanders campaign disputed the figure, saying the newspaper ignored cost savings that would result from the government takeover of health care.

Expand Social Security.

Mr. Sanders argues that Social Security has been the most successful government program in U.S. history, providing guaranteed benefits that have kept generations of seniors out of poverty as employers eliminated pension plans and life savings were lost in Wall Street crashes.

He has introduced legislation that would eliminate the cap on Social Security payroll tax that is currently set at $118,500 and allows millionaires to avoid paying the tax on the vast majority of the earnings.

Everyone who makes more than $250,000 a year would pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as middle-class and working families. That would pour in enough money to keep Social Security solvent for another 50 years, give retirees about $65 more each month and increase the annual cost-of-living raise, according to the Sanders campaign.

College for all.

The Sanders plan would make tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout the country. It also would make a college education debt-free at all institutions by barring the federal government from making a profit on student loans, substantially cutting interest rates on student loans and expanding federal work-study programs.

He said the cost of the plan would be covered with a “Robin Hood tax” of 0.5 percent on investment houses, hedge funds and other stock trades. The tax would net 50 cents on every $100 transaction and generate an estimated $300 billion in revenue annually.

Strictly speaking, Mr. Sanders‘ agenda does not fit the definition of socialism, in which the community or the people own the means of production.

He accurately defines his plan as democratic socialism, in which high taxes pay for generous entitlements. It nevertheless would be a dramatic leap to the left for the United States.

“We should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” Mr. Sanders said at last Tuesday’s Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas.

He was also the only one on the stage to disavow capitalism — or what he called “casino capitalism.”

His leftist mantra drew a rebuke from Mrs. Clinton.

“We are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok,” she said. “But we would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.”

The next day, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump chimed in, calling Mr. Sanders a “socialist-slash-communist” and a “maniac.”

“He’s gonna tax you people at 90 percent; he’s gonna take everything!” Mr. Trump said at a campaign event in Virginia. “And nobody’s heard the term ‘communist.’ I call him a socialist-slash-communist because that’s what he is.”

Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs laughed off the attack.

“If we responded every time Donald Trump said something stupid, we wouldn’t have time to do anything else,” Mr. Briggs said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide