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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

How politicians might pay for their goals seems so out of fashion

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, Venture for America founder Andrew Yang and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke stand on stage during the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019. Credit: Bloomberg/Callaghan O'Hare

For context, consider the fiscal record of the current administration so far.

President Donald Trump and Congress have dramatically widened the federal deficit. The gap between spending and revenue topped $1 trillion for the first 11 months of the fiscal year, up 19 percent from last year.

These seem to be days of easy money. 

With the economy looking generally strong, unemployment low, no recession upon us, and the GOP in power, onetime fiscal hawks cannot be heard shouting to cut entitlements or gouge spending. At least not this year.

An escalating defense budget and massive corporate tax cuts are points of pride. Trump clearly sees enough resources at the Pentagon that some of what the Congress budgeted can get diverted to his border-wall project.

If Republicans are so sanguine about how funds flow from the Treasury, well, don't expect Democrats to shout for putting the brakes on a huge program that they sell as a way to lift all boats.

When the presidential "out" party held its latest debate Thursday night, candidates argued not about whether to set an ambitious government health coverage agenda but just how extensive that program should be.

When former Vice President Joe Biden was asked if Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) went too far with their big plans, he said "that'll be for voters to decide."  He then talked about "Medicare for All" plans and said he was "for Barack," who signed the Affordable Care Act. 

Warren, he said, "has not indicated how she pays for" this government-run plan and added that Sanders "gets about halfway there."

Obviously they want to hike taxes on the rich and obviously they don't think that would ruin the economy. Of the contenders on the stage, Sanders — waving arms as if bidding at an auction — took this position during the debate: 

"I am the only person up here to have voted against all three of Trump's military budgets. I don't think we have to spend $750 billion a year on the military when we don't even know who our enemy is."

Obama was kept from creating a "public option" when the ACA was negotiated. After that, with Republicans controlling first the House and then the House and Senate during Obama's term, rollback became the congressional agenda, rather than expansion.

This shows the political limitations of what any Democratic president might be able to do with health care given the makeup of the legislature. Giant proposals must be seen as bargaining positions.

At the debate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), like others to the right of Sanders and Warren, slammed Medicare for All as too government-based.

"While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” she said, warning his plan would oust millions of Americans from their private insurance. "And on page eight of the bill it says that we will no longer have private insurance as we know it."

“I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think it’s a bad idea,” Klobuchar said.

Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro turned his shots toward Biden. "The problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million people uncovered," he said. "I want every American family to have a Medicare plan available to them. If they have solid private insurance that they want to keep, they should be able to do that."

Warren conspicuously dodged saying yes or no when asked if a middle-class tax increase might play some role in funding Medicare for All in addition to soaking the rich. She did so by saying you should consider what you'd get as a total package.

"Costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals, and costs are going to go up for giant corporations. But for hardworking families across this country, costs are going to go down, and that’s how it should work under Medicare for All in our health care system.”

Those with big plans for how to cut and what to lose may have to await another debate or, possibly, another election. It seems austerity is as outdated as the phonograph.

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