Columnists, Opinion

KEULER: A response to Bernie Sanders

In my column last week, I addressed the rhetoric and policies of Donald Trump, who sits atop the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump professes to speak his mind, and in doing so promises to “make America great again.” While I hope I made clear that I believe Trump lacks the civility needed to participate in civil discourse, another candidate — the polar opposite of Trump and one who currently sits atop some Democratic polls — presents an alternative.

On Monday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at Liberty University, an Evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, that is not exactly a hotbed of progressivism. Senator Sanders began his speech at Liberty University by proudly reminding the crowd of his support for abortion rights and gay rights, remarks which received a surprising amount of cheers from the crowd. Despite the differences between himself and most of the people in the audience, Sanders emphasized that “it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.” Now that is a line worthy of a president.

It seems clear to me that Sanders, just like Trump and perhaps more so, wants to “make America great again,” and he has some of the requisite presidential disposition, although the viability of his policies is more in doubt. As a result, I think it’s worth taking a look at how he aims to return America to greatness. He certainly brings a different tone, but are his policies necessarily better?

Throughout his campaign, Sanders has proposed a series of spending programs that would, among other things, increase infrastructure spending, bolster the solvency of Social Security and transform Medicare into a single-payer insurance system that would cover all Americans. Who could argue against such positive changes? Armed only with this information, even the staunchest Republican could start to “feel the Bern.”

As with anything that seems so wonderful at first blush, though, there’s always a catch, and it’s usually in the fine print. Only, in this case, the fine print isn’t fine at all. Instead, the catch is a whopping $18 trillion price tag that these programs are expected to fetch over their first ten years in practice. This analysis was conducted by The Wall Street Journal and based on a similar Medicare bill proposed by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., so actual costs would likely vary to some extent. Nonetheless, at an average annual spending of $1.8 trillion, these programs make for a pretty significant addition to the already bloated federal budget, which stands at $3.8 trillion for the 2015 fiscal year. These programs would increase federal outlays by approximately one-third over the next 10 years, to a staggering $68 trillion.

Another factor to consider is the impact this spending will have on the national deficit and debt. The 2015 budget is expected to experience a shortfall of around $538 billion, in addition to the current outstanding debt of more than $18 trillion, or around $57,000 per citizen. Currently, the United States pays only $229 billion in annual interest payments, but as interest rates rise that number will balloon, further compounding the national debt.

Please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not against federal spending. There are many areas (defense, infrastructure and so on) where taxing citizens and having the government spend this money is the most efficient system. Not all areas of society fall in this category, though, and we need to take a long hard look at any policy that bucks the traditional breakdown between government control and private control.

Like other presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders wants to improve these United States, but his policies ultimately don’t seem to be as much about improving America in its own ways as they are about transforming it into Europe. And Europe hasn’t exactly been that “great,” as of late, with its anemic growth and intransigent social problems.

A single payer system, like Sanders wants to establish, might work in smaller countries like Sweden or even the United Kingdom (although that country’s National Health Service has had its fair share of issues), but how would it work in a pluralistic nation of more than 320 million people? Sure, free tuition at public colleges seems like a nice idea, but who will keep costs down?

And where’s all that money going to come from, anyway? If you’ve been following Sanders’ campaign, you probably already know the answer to that question: taxes on the rich and taxes on corporations, naturally. In fact, Sanders wants to beat Europe at its own game by raising corporate taxes. At 35 percent, the United States already has the highest corporate tax rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of industrialized nations. These increased taxes will harm growth and hurt all Americans — saying otherwise is only a pipe dream.

As Trump says and Sanders clearly believes, we need to make America great again. But unlike Sanders’ policies suggest, we cannot make America great by turning into Europe.

More Articles

Comments are closed.