“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin
Last Friday, the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC) released a report detailing the effects of the tax plans proposed by the six major remaining candidates for president. Among other findings, the report showed that the proposals by Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would raise $15.3 trillion and $1.1 trillion over the next decade, respectively. Under Sanders’s plan, middle class Americans would see an average increase of $4,700 in their taxes, while those in the top 0.1% income bracket would see taxes go up by an average of $3 million. For their part, all four of the Republican candidates have proposed plans that would add trillions of dollars to the national debt, with the largest benefits and tax breaks going to the highest-income households.
But the importance of these plans extends far beyond their economic impact: each plan represents its candidate’s interpretation of our Nation’s ideals and vision for our future. And in these terms, one candidate sets himself apart. One candidate has waged a personal war on the inequities, injustices, and institutions that precipitate the death of the American dream. That candidate is Bernie Sanders.
It is understandable that Americans are wary of any increase in taxes. It was Daniel Webster who argued in Marybury v. Madison, one of the first landmark Supreme Court decisions, that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” And in some cases this is as true today as it was in 1798.
Take, for example, student loans.
By some reports, the federal government is set to make $66 billion in profits from individuals who took out students loans between 2007 and 2012. Many Americans do not go to college because they simply cannot be burdened with 30 years of debt. In this case, the federal government is destroying the ambition of young Americans, diverting them from higher-paying jobs and denying their chances of upward mobility, all in the name of the bottom line.
But as America has progressed in the 200 plus years since the Marbury decision, our conception of the powers of taxation has evolved as well. Contrary to the current conservative consensus, modern taxation is so much more than a tool of oppression. For example, when President Eisenhower (the immortal conservative) took office, there was a 91 percent marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. Ike utilized this revenue to fund the Interstate Highway System, putting millions of Americans to work building many of the roads and bridges we still use today.
But how is all of this relevant to the 2016 presidential election? In the past 30 years, America has shifted ever rightward. Conservatives have emphatically embraced the tenets of Reaganomics and have encouraged corporate welfare policies and tax cuts for the rich, insisting that such policies would encourage investment and growth that would trickle down to the middle class.
But the numbers speak for themselves. Since 1979, hourly wages for the vast majority of Americans have stagnated or declined, while the income gap has grown to an unsustainable measure (I’m sure you’ve heard the statistics about the .1%). It is clear that all new profits are going to the top.
But, to be fair, the Democrats are also at fault. The neo-liberal movement, led by chiefly by the Clintons, has encouraged rampant greed and runaway corruption.
While many Americans may be hesitant to support a candidate who proposes a 2.2 percent increase on income taxes, I encourage them to consider the trade-offs.
Sanders supports a tax hike because he wants to implement single-payer healthcare in the United States. The U.S. stands alone among developed nations in denying healthcare to its citizens as a right.
This is indefensible.
Currently, the U.S. spends more per capita on healthcare coverage than any other advanced nation. It is estimated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that U.S. expenditure on healthcare is nearly 17.5 percent of the GDP. That equates to $3 trillion, or $9,523 per person.
The tax increase that Sanders is proposing for middle-income Americans is less than half that figure, which frees up a significant amount of disposable income for the average individual.
Additionally, Sanders is proposing a jobs and infrastructure program the likes of which we have not seen since FDR’s New Deal. I mentioned above that many of us are still driving on the roads and bridges that were built nearly 60 years ago, and those structures are certainly worse for wear. A Washington Post report last month stated that nearly 59,000 bridges in our nation are structurally deficient. This statistic presents a risk to businesses that rely on these routes to transport goods and even greater danger American families who cross these bridges every day carry far more precious cargo.
Only Bernie Sanders has a plan to put Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, giving thousands of Americans well-paying jobs and peace of mind to millions more on their daily commutes.
Above all, Sanders wants to impose an excise tax on Wall Street speculation that will pay for tuition free education at public colleges and universities. This makes him the only candidate who has proposed any plan to make the next generation of Americans workers competitive on a global scale.
Trump and Kasich both argue that they will fight to bring jobs back from China and Mexico, but are these really the jobs that are going to sustain the standard of living expected by millennial Americans? Let’s not forget why these jobs left America in the first place—these countries have no laws regarding fair wages, no laws restricting child labor, and no laws protecting worker safety. Are we really willing to toss out 100 years of progress and revert to the regulatory standards of the Gilded Ages in order to bring these manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.? Do Americans really want to take a job working in a plant for Nike or Apple and earning poverty wages? Or should we to strive for something better?
The Republicans want to focus on how we are shipping low wage jobs overseas. But why don’t they talk about the fact that there are plenty of sustainable, high-paying jobs here in the U.S.? In a time when a college degree means what a high school degree meant 30 years ago, we must provide young Americans with the resources and training to become the thinkers, doctors, scientists, and engineers of tomorrow. We live in a global economy, and if we do not provide the next generation with the resources, education, and training to fill these positions, then other countries will surely continue to do so, for better or worse.
All said, Sanders faces significantly greater challenges in passing his tax plan than his predecessors. Eisenhower, for example, governed a country that had just won WWII; the national tenor was one of optimism and cooperation, and there was a consensus that together there was nothing we could not achieve. Americans today have been spoiled by decades of decreased taxes and are quite unlikely to support any measure that will promote the common good so long as they and their families are comfortable.
But sooner or later the time of reckoning will come. Sensible Americans will realize that our government must invest more in education and infrastructure than we do on unjustified wars ($1.7 trillion in Iraq) and sustaining the highest per capita prison population of any advanced nation (on average $30,000 per year, per inmate). They will realize that the Wall Street elites who accepted $700 billion from taxpayers without scruples after their illegal actions led to a global crisis have absolutely no standing when they oppose “wealth redistribution.” And perhaps, upon their realization, we can begin to “Make America Great Again!”