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Sunday, March 27, 2016

More Political Ponderings

Since I  was first diagnosed  with cancer last year, my Medicare  supplemental policy insurance has been billed just over  $307,000 for the  physician care, tests, biopsies,  scans and treatments I’ve received. Because Medicare and the insurance company have been able to negotiate lower costs with the providers, they have paid only a portion of that amount, and  my total  out-of-pocket expenses are capped at $6700 per year. It’s still a hefty amount which threatens to destroy whatever meager savings we have managed to accumulate, but I am extremely grateful  to have the coverage and wish all Americans could have the security of knowing  they  can get affordable care, should they face a similar diagnosis or a catastrophic accident requiring extensive care. Which is why the idea of universal coverage as Bernie Sanders proposes appeals to me a great deal.   I like a lot of Bernie Sanders plans in theory.  But I have a lot of questions on how some of these plans would actually be implemented and question his and his campaign managers’ grasp of financial matters,  I find myself asking, "How?" to most of what Sanders says he is going to do. "How do you plan to convince Congress to increase taxes on the rich, increase wages, create jobs, extend Medicare to all as well as guarantee a free college education, etc.?" How much does Sen. Sanders actually know about how Medicare works? Does he realize how much those of us receiving Medicare have paid into it, how much our monthly premium deducted form our Social Security checks for Part B coverage is? Does he know that we have a pretty hefty out of pocket expense and that while it does provide many preventative services, Medicare does not cover most dental or eye care services, and does not cover hearing aids? What about the current  Medicare portion of the FICA payroll tax  paid by both  employers and employees to  cover Medicare premiums? Now the Medicare tax is 1.45%  for those earning under $200,000. Those earning   more than that amount also pay an additional 0.9% Medicare surtax.  Will that be increased or will the   tax be scrapped and rolled into an all inclusive payroll tax for universal healthcare? What about the unemployed?   How will their  tax be covered? Medicare is  truly a wonderful thing as is the idea of  universal healthcare is a goal we should strive for.  I believe the Affordable Care Act is a first step in the right direction toward achieving that goal, but when I look at the  Republican congressional opposition to it, the number of efforts to overturn the law and the  many Republican governors who have refused to expand Medicaid  so that their  constituents are eligible , I wonder just how realistic  many of Sanders sweeping proposals and promises are as opposed to Secretary Clinton’s more pragmatic approach and her determination to   support  down ticket Democratic candidates at  state  levels. Because   it is as the state and local level that a lot of legislative change and political  leverage  is needed

 A  question about Bernie Sanders’ free college  for all plan.   According to the summary on his site, Sanders’ plan  states that total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70 billion per year. Of that cost, under the Sanders plan the federal government  would be responsible for  67% of the cost while the states would be required to pick up the remaining 33% . But according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states have been cutting funding  for K-12 programs since the 2008 recession and most states have not restored those earlier levels.  In fact, in about half the states reporting, less general aid  per student is being  provided now than in 2008, and In three states, including Alabama, funding  cuts are 15% or more.

The cuts also affect higher education. While state funding for higher education has been rising slightly in the last  couple of years, there is still a large reliance on student tuition to fund higher education.  US News reports that, “ Overall, half of states now receive more financial support from tuition dollars than from state or local funding. And the reliance on tuition revenue varies widely between states, from a low of 15.1 percent in Wyoming to a high of 84.5 percent in Vermont.”

Sanders’ plan calls for  financing the federal  funding  by Imposing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, a Wall Street speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators of 0.5% on stock trades (50 cents for every $100 worth of stock), a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005%fee on derivatives. He estimates that this fee will raise the necessary  money with some left over, but nowhere  in the plan does he address the problem of where the already cash-strapped states are going to come up with their share, nor of what happens  if  there is another  recession or a drop in speculation, stock trades, etc.

Sen. Sanders said, “I promise at the end of my first term we won't have more people in jail than in any other country. .But according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the  2.2 million Americans in prison at the end of 2013, only 215,000 inmates, less than 10% were in federal prisons. The rest were in state and local facilities. Even if he freed every prisoner in federal prisons, we would still have 2 million   people in prison.

And  back to taxes:  Many of the tax inequalities in this country are due to  state and local taxes. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), “On average, the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers nationwide pay more than double the effective tax rate paid by the richest 1 per cent of households (10.9 percent v. 5.4 percent). ITEP’s analysis factors in all major state and local taxes, including personal and corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales and other excise taxes.  And a lot of those taxes are state and local taxes that  affect the poor. Here  in Alabama, the poor pay more than 1½ times as much of their income on state and local taxes than the rich. Alabama also has some of the nation's highest sales tax rates, which disproportionately affects middle - and lower-income earners, and we also pay a tax on groceries.  Yet  Sen. Sanders' plan calls for adding  even more of a tax burden on the middle class.  As he noted in an October 2015 interview with George Stephanopoulos,“If you’re looking at providing paid family and medical leave – which virtually every other major country has – so that when a mom gives birth, she doesn’t have to go back to work in two weeks or if there is an illness in the family, dad or mom can stay home with the kids, that will require a small increase in the payroll tax.”  Right now there are federal  laws being proposed to deal with these issues including the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a national paid family  and medical  leave insurance program  that would provide up to 12 weeks of partially - paid leave for reasons covered by the FMLA.  Also, more than $2.2 billion proposed in the Department of Labor’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget that would hel p states fund and implement new paid family and medical leave programs, and $35 million proposed for states to create the infrastructure needed to develop new state paid leave programs . Does Sanders propose to build on these policies or scrap them and  start from scratch? How does he  intned to get   Republican governors and state legislators on board, given the opposition they have shown to the Affordable Care Act?

I worry, with so many  Sanders supporters vowing that they  will not support  Clinton if Sanders loses the nomination,  that all the enthusiasm for the “revolution” that Senator Sanders is calling for  will  die down and that his followers will drop out rather than continue to work on passing progressive legislation and in getting  progressives elected to  local and state offices.
 So, yes,  I have a lot of misgivings about Senator Sanders’ proposals, and policies and the  way he has used the  Democratic Party he has scorned as being  part of the establishment responsible for our current   inequities and problems to further his own candidacy without supporting other progressives within the party.  Both candidates have flaws, all politicians do, and no politician is  going to be able to please 100 percent of  his or her constituency  all of the time.  What I wonder about is, do Sanders and his supporters realize that bankers and the 1%  are also part of the fabric of this country with rights and interests.   Their interests shouldn’t outweigh the interests of middle class and poor Americans as they have in the past and do now,  but in order to institute reforms and rein in   the influence of money in politics, compromises will have to be negotiated. In order to accommodate the interests of a diverse populace and best serve the needs of the country as a whole, adversaries with different ideologies will have to work together. Given that Sanders has castigated and alienated the banking industry and the rich to  a large degree, I’m not sure Sanders  is the best candidate to effect those changes, reforms and  compromises.

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