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Bernie Sanders: The $18 Trillion Man


Sen. Bernie Sanders has excited the Democratic Party's base with promises of more "free" stuff and emerged from relative obscurity as a legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton, once thought to be the frontrunner for the party's presidential nomination. But the policy agenda the self-identified "democratic socialist" is espousing to fawning audiences on the campaign trail is one that would create severe economic problems for the United States.

The Wall Street Journal analyzed the policy proposals that Sanders has put forward -- which includes single-payer health care, free college tuition, and an expansion of Social Security. The cost of these policies, according to the Journal, comes in at an eye-popping $18 trillion over ten years.

"His agenda includes an estimated $15 trillion for a government-run health-care program that covers every American," Laura Meckler noted at the Journal. "He proposes $1 trillion to repair roads, bridges and airports. His college-affordability program would cost $750 billion over a decade. Smaller programs would provide youth jobs and prevent cuts to private pension plans. He would raise an additional $1.2 trillion in Social Security taxes in order to increase benefits and pay those already promised for 50 years. That would bolster the program but fall short of the 75 years of solvency that is typically what policy makers aim to achieve."

Here is the proposal-by-proposal cost estimate provided by the Journal:

WSJ Sanders Spending

Federal outlays as a percentage of the economy, or gross domestic product (GDP), would skyrocket to 30 percent. To put this in perspective, outlays have averaged around 20 percent of the economy since 1946. In the current fiscal year, federal outlays are expected to come in just under 21 percent. So what Sanders is proposing is the largest expansion of government in the post-war era. The policy agenda that Clinton has proposed, by the way, would cost around $650 billion over ten years.

To pay for his policy agenda, Sanders has, thus far, proposed $6.5 trillion in tax increases, including an increase in the payroll tax to fund his single-payer health care program. More tax increases, the campaign said, would be required to cover at least some of the price tag.

An aide to Sanders defended the $18 trillion cost associated with his candidate's proposals. "Sen. Sanders’s agenda does cost money," the aide said. "If you look at the problems that are out there, it’s very reasonable."

Of course, such a massive expansion of the federal government would create economic problems. Sanders is ostensibly proposing a European-style welfare state. While this may sound attractive to the political left, many European countries face slow economic growth and mounting debt problems because of the size and scope of their welfare programs. All one needs to do is look at Greece to see the ramifications of these policies.

As Margaret Thatcher once said, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." Sanders' agenda is a perfect illustration of this. And given his rise in the polls, it highlights exactly how far to the left the Democratic Party has shifted.

EuroYankee's picture

As you can see, the bulk of the $18 trillion is the $15 trillion that goes to a single payer health care system. Without this program, however, Americans would spend $20 Trillion on health care over the same period, while leaving millions uninsured. So the $5 Trillion saved by going to a single payer system will more than cover the rest of Sanders's program.

tonusaitis's picture

EuroYankee, considering all politicians grossly underestimate the costs of their government agenda, I'd be willing to bet that the single-payer Bernie Sanders healthcare scheme would actually run double at about $30 trillion. The taxpayer will be soaked for every penny of it, either immediately or in the form of a gigantic explosion of government debt beyond even what we've experienced in the past decade. I'm not buying that the government running a massive new healthcare program will be cheaper than Americans paying for the health care on their own.

When the government gets the VA healthcare situation looking respectable at a reasonable price, then we'll talk.