MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

What Has Bernie Sanders Proposed in the 2016 Campaign So Far?

Free stuff's the limit.

The first Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle will be held tonight. Since the start of the campaign season in April, when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the top two polling Democratic candidates right now, first declared their intentions to run, the Democratic race has been defined largely by how much free stuff the candidates can promise.

On May 1, Sanders was polling at 5.6 percent compared to Clinton's 62.2 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls. Six months and $18 trillion of policy proposals later, Sanders was at 26.8 to Clinton's 40.8. Clinton's parade of e-mail-related scandals certainly helped her numbers deflate, but there were other candidates for Democrats to organize around. In May, Jim Webb and Martin O'Malley were polling in the single digits along with Sanders. But it was only Sanders who was able to light up the Democratic base, largely with his decades-old anti-rich people rhetoric (today it's the Koch brothers, in the 70s it was the Rockefellers), and the offers of free stuff.

The 18 Trillion Dollar Man

The Wall Street Journal tallied up Sanders' policy proposals and estimated the cost at $18 trillion over 10 years, a sum not officially disputed by the Sanders campaign. The bulk of that, $15 trillion, is the estimated cost of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans—Sanders' preferred vehicle for universal government healthcare.

Sanders also wants to increase benefits and spending on America's other massive entitlement program, Social Security. The estimated cost there is $1.2 trillion, and he proposes raising the cap on taxable income about $250,000 to offset a portion of those costs. Sanders has also promised to spend big ($1 trillion over five years, according to the Sanders campaign) on infrastructure programs, tuition-free public schools and debt refinancing ($750 billion), and a paid family and medical leave fund ($319 billion). Rounding out Sanders' $18 trillion spending regiment is $29 billion to spend on protecting private pension funds and $5.5 billion for a youth jobs program.

Income Inequality Crusade

The $18 trillion worth of spending hardly represents the totality of Sanders' policy proposals. Sanders' campaign has been hooked largely on the problem of "income inequality," the idea that even though all Americans are getting richer, there's something wrong about some Americans getting richer faster than others.

To that end, the Sanders campaign has proposed a slew of policies. His campaign says he will "stop corporations from shifting their proftis and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes," but doesn't offer a mechanism for how to do that. Sanders does propose a "progressive estate tax" on the Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million and a new tax on Wall Street to raise some of the revenue needed for Sanders' promises of "free stuff." He also wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, because "no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty," and says he will champion a bill he's introduced to Congress mandating the break up of "too big to fail" Wall Street banks. As part of his income inequality crusade, Sanders also promised to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Employee Free Choice Act.

Racial Justice

Because Bernie Sanders has been saying the same thing for years, first as a perennial third party candidate, then as mayor of Burlington, a U.S. Congressman, and a Senator, he doesn't have many policy addresses. Sticking to the same decades old message means his sentiments eventually go back into fashion, but also means he's ignored entire policy domains. On at least two occasions earlier this year, activists affiliated with Black Lives Matter protested events Bernie Sanders attended.

On August 9, Bernie Sanders released a "racial justice" platform. Notably, he equated police violence with incidents like the Charleston church shooting to paint both systematic state-sponsored violence and individual acts of private violence as "acts of terrors" perpetrated by "extremists."

Sanders' platform includes some substantive criminal justice reform policy proposals, even if he doesn't identify them as such, including demilitarizing local police departments, requiring body cameras, more federal investigations of cops who "break the law," public reports on police shootings, and reforms to the rules on the use of force. He suggests using federal grant money to incentivize local police departments to adopt better practices, not a new idea, but, worryingly, also advocates for a "model police training program" at the federal level and calls for more community policing and putting more cops on the street, an integral part of the 1994 Crime bill now being pilloried by Democrats who say they've found religion on the excesses of the criminal justice system.

Those suggestions by Sanders betray a lack of awareness of how the centralization of power increases the tendency toward state violence. While Bernie Sanders envisions activists from movements like Black Lives Matters providing input for the training program, such processes tend to be captured by the interests most vested in maintaining the status quo. Depsite Sanders' lip service to Black Lives Matter in his racial justice platform, and Black Lives Matter's Campaign Zero proposal to re-examine privileges offered in police union contracts, Sanders makes no mention of the corrosive effects police, corrections officer, and other law enforcement unions have on policing and the criminal justice and penal system in this country.

Trade

While Republican candidate Donald Trump might get the most press as a China critic (and really gets the most press on anything), Bernie Sanders, unsurprisingly, has struck a decidedly anti-free trade tone as well. As president, he promises to reverse the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Association as well as Permanent Normal Trade Relations status for China. He accuses free trade regimes of having "driven down wages and caused the loss of millions of jobs," and on his website singles out China specifically. "If corporate America wants us to buy their products," BernieSanders.com explains, "they need to manufacture those products in this country, not in China or other low-wage countries."

Immigration

While Bernie Sanders called the idea of open borders, or that peaceable people should be able to cross U.S. borders without government interference, he does promise as president to "sign comprehensive immigration reform into law to bring over 11 million undocumented workers out of the shadows." He opposes the guest worker program, but doesn't define what "out of the shadows" means to him. Providing legal status to those immigrants, of course, would amount to an ex post facto open border policy.

Sanders doesn't offer any proposal to make immigration into this country easier, or to provide a legal way for those immigrants crossing the border illegally every day. Instead he blames NAFTA on increasing poverty in Mexico, promises to pass laws to increase the wages of guest workers, and while he talks about the "importance of dealing not just with the issue of immigration but with the very real refugee crisis we face," he blames that crisis entirely on free trade and not policies like the drug war, and offers no solution about how to offer those refugees a legal path into the country either.

Campaign Finance Reform

Bernie Sanders does not like billionaires spending money on political expression, especially the Koch brothers (The Charles G. Koch Foundation is a donor to the Reason Foundation, which operates Reason.com). He has been one of the leading voices against Citizens United, where the Supreme Court ruled laws prohibiting corporate entities from spending on political speech violated the First Amendment, which prohibits the Congress from passing laws that abridge the freedom of speech.

To his credit, at least Sanders doesn't exactly argue Citizens United was a bad ruling—he actually wants a constitutional amendment to give the government the power to shut up corporate entities, even newspapers and other media organizations, ahead of elections, although he doesn't shy away from promising on his campaign website to use Citizens United as a litmus test for potential Supreme Court nominees.

Eventually he wants election campaigns to be funded by the government. It's not a surprising stance given that Bernie Sanders is a life-long office-seeker and –holder, even once running for U.S. Senate while collecting unemployment, and that his entire platform centers on government redistributing wealth.

Foreign Policy

BernieSanders.com has an entire issue page devoted to why Sanders supports the Iran deal (short answer: war should be a last resort). He promises as president to "move away from a policy of unilateral military action, and toward a policy of emphasizing diplomacy" but doesn't write off military action in general, so long as it "has clear goals, is limited in scope, and provides support to our allies in the region," opening the door to justify pretty much any military action the United States has taken in the last fifty years, at least according to the policy makers selling those military actions.

Like President Obama, Sanders also promises to close Guantanamo Bay and abolish the use of torture. Sanders wants to see an America with an expanded global influence, and sees "fair trade," more climate change engagement, more humanitarian relief and economic assistance as well as defending the rule of law and promoting human rights (often code words for military action).

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    He would also reduce Baskin Robbins' 31 flavors to 2.

    Vanilla and slightly-whiter vanilla.

  • Idle Hands||

    Ben and Jerries gets an exception.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I stopped buying their product until they include GMO Dairy and 100% less smug.

  • Galactic Chipper Cdr Lytton||

    Ben & Jerry sold out to Unilever 15 years ago. Go ahead and pick up a pint of Vermont Hypocrite with the groceries tonight.

  • UnCivilServant||

    But Unilever hasn't changed the formula to take the smug out, and those two still orbit the company like unflushable turds.

  • Thomas O.||

    Call me crazy, but they really should stay with their company as long as they're still alive. Why create another "Famous Amos" situation?

  • Swiss Servator||

    While Republican candidate Donald Trump might get the most press as a China critic (and really gets the most press on anything)

    Thanks be to God that Reason has bravely resisted this trend/temptation!

    *resumes sipping coffee*

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Can you stick to the story?
    What is it with TDS, (Trump Derangement Syndrome)

  • lafe.long||

    On August 9, Bernie Sanders released a "racial justice" platform. Notably, he equated police violence with incidents like the Charleston church shooting to paint both systematic state-sponsored violence and individual acts of private violence as "acts of terrors" perpetrated by "extremists."

    Related:
    Douglas County, Georgia: Confederate Flag Supporters to Face Terrorism Charges, Officials Say

    The Douglas County District Attorney's Office released a letter stating that following an investigation by the D.A. and local police, a grand jury indicted individuals from Respect the Flag with violations of the state's Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act and making terroristic threats.
  • Drake||

    I think I liked the world better in the 80's when I was being trained to kill commies.

  • VicRattlehead||

    the commies were already here man, you missed the boat

  • Loki||

    Hey, he did what he had to to win! But somebody didn't let him win!

  • dchang0||

    WOLVERINES!!!!

  • Jerryskids||

    I've just learned more about what Bernie Sanders stands for reading this article than in the last few months of seeing anything on TV. CNN constantly mentions how well Bernie is polling and how big his crowds are but they don't say a word about what he's saying. I can't figure that out - it seems like if Bernie is more liberal than Hillary they would be playing up his extremism to make Hillary look more moderate by comparison. So why aren't they supporting Hillary? They do spend about 99% of their time talking about (and to) Trump - Trump apparently has a regular call-in feature to CNN whereby they act as an arm of his campaign - so maybe they're just making sure we all know how whacko the GOP is while holding their fire on Bernie until they can compare him unfavorably to Biden.

  • MC Guru||

    Hillary Clinton Trump de Trump. Trump de Trumpity Trumpy Trump. Until one day, the Trumpa Trumpa TrumpaTrump. Trump de Trump, da teedily dumb. From the creators of Der, and Tum Ta Tittaly Tum Ta Too, Hillary Cinton is Da Trump Dee Trump Da Teetley Trumpee Trumpee Dumb. Rated PG-13.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Because ideas, positions and facts are entirely irrelevant to the paid propaganda arm of the Democratic party (a.k.a. the mainstream media). They just take their marching orders and promote Hillary, and keep the voters as in-the-dark as possible.

  • Ewald Von Kleist||

    that's not uninsightful

  • ||

    The cult around him is religious. That is extremely frightening.

  • Tony||

    I agree. Not frightening like the fascist mob supporting Trump, but frightening in that they don't seem to understand or care how completely he would lose the election. Everyone who writes or utters the phrase "Feel the Bern" deserves to be slapped by me.

  • A Cynic's Guide to Zen||

    Tony, I gotta say, sometimes you are a real charming sack of shit.

  • ||

    more humanitarian relief and economic assistance

    Apparently he hasn't gotten the memo about who won the Economics prize this week.

  • Rich||

    He ... doesn't define what "out of the shadows" means to him.

    Free flashlights for all New Americans?

  • ||

    Sanders makes no mention of the corrosive effects police, corrections officer, and other law enforcement unions have on policing and the criminal justice and penal system in this country.

    And nor will he. He's a socialist. They believe in coercion from Top Men. It's their raison d'etre.

    Hello.

  • paulrvalentine||

    So he thinks NAFTA transfers jobs from the US to Mexico, but he plans to alleviate poverty in Mexico by... repealing NAFTA?

    I guess when your philosophy is that the government should prop up anyone without a job then this somehow makes sense in your head.

  • SKR||

    Seriously. The decrease in poverty in Mexico since NAFTA is about the only thing driving poverty numbers down in Latin America.

  • UCrawford||

    All I care about from the debate is that he takes Clinton down a peg or two and illustrates just what an incompetent empty suit she is. At this point in the election, I'm in the "anyone but Clinton camp". They're all horrible, but she's by far the worst. I'd rather have the open socialist than Clinton...just because he's at least honest about where he stands on the issues, he isn't completely inept, and there's a decent chance he'd die of old age before the end of his term.

  • Cloudbuster||

    ... he isn't completely inept,...

    I'd beg to differ on that.

  • sasob||

    At this point in the election, I'm in the "anyone but Clinton camp".

    Yeah, that's what I said back in 2008. How did that work out?

  • onebornfree||

    They are all scam artists, no different from the candidates in the repubes or any other party. :-) .
    Song: "Dreams[ Hormegeddon Blues]: www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0o-C1_LZzk

    But so what?

    I don't care which scam artist finally gets elected, or which doesn't, nor what the Fed does/does not do, nor whether, according to Mr "investment advisor with a near perfect prediction record" [insert name of choice] , we are supposedly in for recession, depression, deflation, hyper inflation, a stock market boom, or whatever .

    Why? Because whatever happens, my entirely self-managed, fully diversified, once per year adjusted long term savings plan will be safely protected and will , 9 times out of 10, grow at an average of 8% per annum over and above the prevailing inflation [or deflation], rate, year in, year out, as it has since 1986 when I started using it.

    For a link to the plans results 1972-2011, email: onebornfreeatyahoodotcom ,
    with "Savings Plan Results" in the subject line

    Regards,onebornfree
    Financial Safety Services

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Troll.

  • american socialist||

    Bernie sanders proposals are going to cost us 8 bazillion dollars of money we already spend on things. Don't you get why he's a hack?

  • Cloudbuster||

    I'm agog. This is the most unserious collection of potential national candidates I have seen in my more than 50 years of life. This pack wouldn't have made in on the clown car for the mid-debate entertainment break 30 years ago.

  • Otisjay||

    It's been a silly ride this time around...

  • Chocolate Starfish ( . )||

    potatoe

  • Sevo||

    "Campaign Finance Reform"

    Needs sneer quotation marks.
    "Reform", my dyin' ass. What he wants is the taxpayer to subsidize the incumbents.

  • sasob||

    Sounds to me as though Sanders and Obama would get along famously together.

  • josh||

    i guess you can argue running for office is applying for a job. i tend to think of it as a job unto itself, unless you're doing it with a wink and nod. anyway, it being kind of pathetic is debatable i guess.

  • Rockabilly||

    The evil KKKorporations are controlling my mind !! The evil KKKoch Bros are controlling my mind too !!

    How the Koch Brothers Are Trying to Brainwash America's Kids

    http://www.alternet.org/educat.....ricas-kids

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    No one believes your Koch Derangement Syndrome lies. You spout Leftist Kool-Aid drinking projection. The list of big money Democrat donors is endless:
    Mark Stayer James Simons, George Soros, David Bonderman and Laurie Michaels, Reid Hoffman, Jon Stryker, Pat Stryker, John Doerr, Robert and Ann Bass, Marc Benioff, Laurene Powell Jobs...

    In terms of percentage of big money and in terms of absolute dollars, the Democrats are awash in big money, Republicans lead in small dollar donations by far.

    Who do you think you're fooling?

  • ||

    Start working at home with Google! It's by-far the best job I've had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.buzznews99.com

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Troll

  • Critical Libertarian||

    I've read that Gerald Friedman, who I believe the WSJ cited as their source for the estimated $15 trillion cost of Sen. Sanders' plan, also estimated that the Medicare expansion would cost $5 trillion less over the same ten year period than if the current healthcare spending model was maintained in the face of rising costs. I'd be interested to get some input on that, as I haven't seen any challenge to that figure.

  • muskegonlibertarian||

    Sounds like a European social welfare state (Germany comes to mind here).

  • Barbara Dayan||

    New Facebook-like Social Network Launched for Bernie Sanders Revolution!

    WeLoveBernie.net is a new, multiple language, Facebook-like social network devoted to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and progressive causes. Inspired by Bernie Sanders and his message about taking back America for the 99%, the social network offers the bells and whistles of Facebook where users can post profiles and photos, promote their organizations, books, music, artwork, films and other items of interest to this community.

    Join the Bernie Sanders Political Revolution here: http://welovebernie.net/

  • XM||

    "While Bernie Sanders called the idea of open borders, or that peaceable people should be able to cross U.S. borders without government interference, he does promise as president to "sign comprehensive immigration reform into law to bring over 11 million undocumented workers out of the shadows."

    What did he call that idea? I think he called it right wing.

    Sanders is kinda like Ron Paul of the left. He's making a lot noise in some states, but Clinton owns him places that will deliver the presidency.

    America makes a TON of money abroad. China is more than some cheap place to open up manufacturing plants. Hollywood makes a killing there.

    A small part of me wants to see President Sanders (with massive popular support from the economic illiterates) actually enact his many insane policies. The progressives and democrat donors that run big business will be the hardest hit, and if Bernie actually gets to their foreign accounts, they'll lose their minds.

    How long can the Zuckerberg and Tim Cooks of the world continue to support naked socialist before the company starts to take notice of the Dem's leftward march? The irony is that if America ever becomes this "mom and pop" joint where big banks and businesses go the way of the dodo, the country will be as white as Canada.

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Ultra rich donors like Mark Styer, Soros, Rockefeller et. el. far out spend the Koch Brothers both in terms of proportion and in absolute dollars. The Democrats are projecting a lie. They are the party of big money. Now, why would big money chase after a total government solution?
    Power.
    Money.
    Societal Control.
    The formula hasn't changed in a hundred years.
    Bernie likes to call himself a Socialist, but in reality he is a Neocom, or New Communist.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online