The 2020 Democratic presidential primary is turning into a question of restoration or revolution.
Some candidates, most specifically Joe Biden, have entered the race to restore the country to the pre-Trump era of President Barack Obama. On the other side is a group of Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders who are offering more radical transformation.
They are pushing very specific proposals for big, expensive ideas and want the federal government providing more direct help to each citizen.
Every Democrat wants to address climate change, gun control and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. But there’s less agreement on how to deal with racial disparity and inequality, whether to force Americans into a government-run health care system and whether or how to rebuild elements of the US system of government.
Here’s a look at some of the more novel and transformational proposals that Democratic candidates are pushing. This is not a survey of where all Democrats agree, so we’ve left out the Green New Deal, which many support but which lacks many specifics.
You’ll notice that some candidates – Sens. Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey – have more entries than others. And that some candidates who don’t get a lot of mainstream media attention or have a following in the polls, like John Delaney and Andrew Yang, have fully formed and interesting proposals. Meanwhile, some candidates who get a lot of attention have fewer specific and no revolutionary proposals.
We’ve tried to focus on the first candidate in the race to suggest something this year. Others have since agreed with many of these ideas.
Address inequality; expand the safety net
Addressing inequality is something every Democratic candidate would support. But few have a concrete way to do it. Some of these proposals do double duty, having been suggested as remedies to racial inequality, which we’ll explore further down.
One of the most specific and intriguing ideas comes from Booker, who wants to give every American child a nest egg. Kids who come from less would get larger nest eggs for college or down payments. But every child would get something. Booker says giving kids a nest egg that matures when they’re 18 would help people on the lower rungs of society create wealth. It would address racial and income inequality and the cost of tuition in one program.
Most of the Democratic candidates say they support universal health care, but that’s a phrase that would take many forms. Sanders has led the way with his “Medicare for All” proposal, which would replace the US system with one run by the government, similar to the Medicare now enjoyed by senior citizens. Whether the current market system could or should be replaced, however, has led to some disagreement among Democrats and some offshoot proposals for Medicare buy-in. A number of fellow candidates have endorsed Sanders’ plan along with the less radical buy-in proposal.
Former Rep. Delaney of Maryland has his own proposal, which would replace the current system with a hybrid: The government would cover basic health care services, and market plans could be bought for additional coverage.
Most candidates are talking about the need to reduce higher education costs and to address what many people call a crisis of student loan debt in the country. Sanders has led the way here too, but the most ambitious plan was recently announced by Warren, who would forgive most student debt held by the government and raise taxes on the wealthy to make tuition at public schools free.
To deliver these programs, capital will need to be raised, and there are two serious proposals to ask Americans who have the most to bear the burden.
Put Americans to work
Sanders and Warren also have the most specific plans on how to raise revenue to pay for their plans. Both would target the richest Americans with new taxes on their wealth. Warren’s proposal for a tax on assets would be an important step further than the current US tax code, which is focused on income. Republicans scaled back the estate tax when they passed their tax cut law in 2017, but Sanders would bring it back in an even bigger way. These ideas aren’t crazy. Before he was a Republican, even Donald Trump had a