A week from tomorrow voters in Iowa will traipse to their individual caucuses to give the nation its first report on who is leading among the Democrats running for the presidential nomination. Depending on the poll, the lead has bounced from Pete Buttigieg, to Elizabeth Warren to Bernie Sanders and now to Joe Biden. We will know when we know.

But if last week and the start to this one are any guide, the persistence of Mr. Sanders is both an annoyance and a surprise to the party’s political middle; how they are fighting back is equally annoying and surprising.

As everyone by now knows [except perhaps the newly born in Longyearbyen, Norway], Mr. Sanders came reasonably close to beating Hillary Clinton four years ago. Why the party’s establishment would think he would be any less of a candidate this time around is puzzling. And why this same group would think he would change his message is also a puzzle. Mr. Sanders has ridden his one-trick, soak-the-rich pony for 40 years. He’s not about to change.

Mr. Sanders has escaped any close scrutiny, scuffles between candidates usually cost both sides involved. The task is to be seen above the fray, trusting that the weaknesses in a candidate’s positions will eventually be exposed.

That hasn’t happened with Vermont’s Mr. Sanders. But it’s starting to. Ms. Clinton has registered her displeasure with Mr. Sanders, as have two Vermont governors, Peter Shumlin and Madeline Kunin. The New York Times passed him by in their endorsement, saying he was as divisive on the left as President Trump is on the right. Former President Barack Obama is even making a little news as being highly uncomfortable with the prospect of Mr. Sanders being the party’s choice against president Trump.

Why now?

Two reasons; first, Bernie’s not going away and is holding steady in the top loops of the polls; second, the more his proposals are analyzed the more terrified the party’s leaders are in a match-up against Mr. Trump if Mr. Sanders is the choice.

This is the annoying part. For an entire year Mr. Sanders has been on the campaign trail saying basically the same thing he said last time around. No one paid particular attention then, no one did the math, he was given a pass.

And the math is?

It’s hard to gauge with 100 percent accuracy since Mr. Sanders doesn’t really finalize his proposals or be specific in what would be included. But according to recent work done by the Congressional Budget Office, which is non partisan, Mr. Sanders’ proposals would double the level of federal spending in less than a decade. His proposals would, as a percentage of the total economy, result in a spending increase that exceeds what the nation experienced during World War II with FDR’s New Deal, or under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Lawrence Summers, former chief White House economic adviser for Barack Obama and treasury secretary for Bill Clinton, estimates that Mr. Sanders’ proposals would result in federal spending levels 2.5 times what FDR proposed.

Mr. Sanders proposals include: a government run health care system [$34 trillion], a “Green New Deal” [$16.3 trillion], $2.5 trillion in affordable housing, infrastructure spending of a trillion dollars, elimination of $1.6 trillion in student debt, raising the pay for teachers [$1 trillion], raising Social Security benefits [$275 billion], universal child care and preschool [$350 billion], paid medical leave [$2 trillion], a federal jobs guarantee [$7.5 trillion.]

All together it’s estimated that his proposals total just shy of $100 trillion, which would be about a 20 percent increase in federal spending relative to the economy. Elizabeth Warren’s proposals would total about 12 percent. Pete Buttigieg’s would total two percent and Joe Biden’s would total about 1.5 percent. As Mr. Summers noted, Mr. Sanders’ proposed increase would be 15 times what President Obama proposed and 30 times what President Clinton proposed.

The capacity to raise what Mr. Sanders proposes to spend isn’t possible, not even close, without a massive increase in the nation’s debt or without a massive increase in taxes on not only the rich but deep into the pocketbook of the middle class.

If Mr. Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination imagine the money that would be spent picking apart every little detail of Mr. Sanders’ blue sky political promises. And would moderate Democrats be full throated supporters of a plan that, when understood, starts to look like economic ruin?


That explains, in part, the internecine warfare within the Democratic Party. They wished Mr. Sanders away early, to no avail. Now, they’re having to make their case more public by pulling the curtain on what Mr. Sanders’ proposals would actually cost, and how politically unfeasible they are. What’s regrettable about all this is that Mr. Sanders’ hasn’t changed, it’s that people are just now starting to pay attention to the details.

by Emerson Lynn

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