Tuesday night, the Democratic candidates will finally face off in a debate and Bernie Sanders’ ambitious platform will finally be subject to scrutiny from someone besides conservatives. Unlike many candidates on both sides, Bernie has laid out a specific Agenda for America that includes 12 specific planks. Enthusiasm has been high for his campaign, as evidenced by the drastic difference in reaction to his events, which, despite his being the oldest candidate, attract a lot of young people and have more of a rock concert feel as opposed to the more subdued scripted appearance of Democratic establishment-types at a Hillary Clinton rally.
On Meet the Press last Sunday, Bernie reiterated that he would expect to pay for ambitious projects with tax increases. “I want to invest a trillion dollars in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. I do want to do that because I think that will create up to 13 million jobs,” he said.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, America’s infrastructure gets a grade of D+ and the World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. only 16th in quality of overall infrastructure. Although it’s not surprising engineers would lobby for trillions to be spent on projects requiring…engineers, documentation is plentiful. Regardless, there is widespread agreement we should spend more money on infrastructure.
What is controversial is “stimulus” type spending. While our budget should continue to include infrastructure, using government as a de facto employment agency is financial quicksand because it requires the wages of 4-5 private sector workers to create enough tax revenue to pay for a single comparable public sector job, which in turn only repays 20-25% of the revenue. As a result, spending in excess of the budget is a never-ending debt spiral. If projects make sense, we must find ways to include them within the budget and yes, that means cutting something else or increasing revenue.
Even the conservative National Review supports the idea but points out the priority should be to find “ways that make economic sense,” which entails addressing high costs of building, as in “issues with contracting practices, union work rules, and environmental-review burdens.” We shouldn’t be signing a blank check.
One alternative is bringing back the Works Progress Administration, an FDR initiative that put the unemployed to work, later adding vocational educational training. The WPA ended after WWII and gave way to more modern versions of entitlement programs under LBJ’s “Great Society.” Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it” and with a GOP Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996, but the requirements were relaxed by the Obama administration and since then, means-tested entitlements are at an all-time high.
Putting people on welfare and out of work back in the workforce and bringing back the WPA are options liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on as they provide work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving benefits and additional workforce for federal projects, all using money we are already spending. In the meantime, perhaps having someone suggesting bold alternatives will provide the impetus for sensible compromises that benefit all.
Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles covering the Sanders campaign, focusing on his 12-point “Agenda for America.” The other installments are available here. More detail is available in longer pieces via the Independent Voter Network.