There are substantive policy issues regarding the Bernie Sanders policy proposals. The main one that concerns me is Sanders’ healthcare plan.
Now, in a way, it doesn’t matter. We all know that nothing big is going to happen on the left anytime soon. If anything big happens, it will be on the right. If the economy tanks and Republicans take control of Washington, it will be very bad. I fully expect them to repeal Obamacare. And maybe I will have to go down to Mexico, where I could now certainly support myself and get low cost health and dental care.
But this is what’s so frustrating about dealing with this election on the Democratic side. The same people who claim that the Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals are unrealistic are also busy saying that we can’t afford them or that the numbers don’t add up. Still, it does matter to me that politicians that I support have policy proposals that make sense.
I think that Jonathan Chait lays out some valid concerns in his recent article, Bernie Sanders’ Healthcare Plan Does Not Add Up. But just the same, he is playing the “big numbers” game on everyone and I don’t appreciate that.
Chait referenced a study by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and he claimed Sanders’ healthcare plan “would still fall several trillion dollars short of covering its expenses.” Well, that makes it sound worse than it is. They claim $3 trillion over ten years. Given the total cost of the plan (roughly $15 trillion), that would be a shortfall of roughly 20%. That’s substantial, but that’s nothing compared to, say, Mitt Romney’s tax plan that was nothing but fairy dust.
So the truth is that Sanders’ healthcare plan could be fixed, assuming that this study is correct. I would like to see the Sanders campaign respond to these questions with more than denial. But you can see why it doesn’t. Chait’s article is a great example of this. Half of the article is taken up with Kenneth Thorpe’s analysis that the Sander campaign rightly calls a “complete hatchet job.” It claims that the proposal would cost $14 trillion more than Sanders claims. Thorpe’s claims have been called into question. Jonathan Cohn noted that, “Thorpe’s analysis is as subject to scrutiny and second-guessing as anybody’s.” And David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler provided a thorough refutation of it, On Kenneth Thorpe’s Analysis of Senator Sanders’ Single-Payer Reform Plan.
The real question we have to ask here is whether we actually want to have a policy discussion. I do! But I certainly don’t think that Jonathan Chait does. I think Chait just wants to snipe in a partisan way — that it’s all politics and no policy. Similarly, in The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz wrote, Should Millennials Get Over Bernie Sanders? That one was answered by Dean Baker, New Yorker Joins Open Season on Bernie Sanders.
The truth is that no one really wants to talk about Sanders’ healthcare plan or any of this stuff. The media certainly doesn’t. And by that, I’m not even talking about people like Chait who do care about policy when it suits them. But we have a media infrastructure that will not allow candidates to act in reasonable ways and alter their plans. Would it be seen as acceptable for him to alter it? I don’t think so. And I’m not exactly sure what the point would be, given that even if the Democrats were swept into office, the plan would be the starting point of a negotiation.