In a recent interview, former President Barack Obama admitted something Democrats have been trying to deny for months. “If you look at Joe Biden’s goals and Bernie Sanders’ goals, they’re not that different, from a 40,000-foot level,” he said.
He’s right. Biden may have won his party’s nomination by casting himself as the moderate alternative to Sanders. In reality, the Democratic nominee’s agenda is only cosmetically different from that of his socialist rival.
Let’s start with energy policy. The “Green New Deal” endorsed by Sanders and his fellow progressives aims to eliminate carbon emissions across the country by 2050. This wildly ambitious goal would require a wholesale reshaping of our economy, if not our way of life, by bureaucrats in Washington.
Yet Biden also proposes to reduce carbon emissions to zero in less than three decades. That’s wildly unrealistic. At present, nearly two-thirds of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. Last year, electric vehicles accounted for just 2 percent of cars sold in the United States.
Shifting just the electrical grid to a 50-50 mix of nuclear and renewables would cost $5.4 trillion over 10 years and raise annual electricity costs by 22 percent, or an average of nearly $300 per household, according to an analysis conducted by the American Action Forum.
Or take Social Security. The entitlement program is set to run out of cash by 2035. Sanders’ response to this crisis has not been to bring the program’s accounts back into balance; he simply calls for spending more money.
But Biden does, too. He proposes to increase not just the minimum benefit but payments to surviving spouses, as well as the program’s cost-of-living adjustments.
Sanders and Biden also want to more than double the federal minimum wage to $15, cancel at least some student debt, and make college free for more Americans. To pay for all this federal largesse, both propose raising taxes on income and capital gains.
Many point to health care policy as the defining disagreement between Biden and Sanders. Here too, their differences aren’t as deep as they first appear.
Sanders, famously, is pressing for a complete government takeover of the U.S. health insurance system in the form of “Medicare-for-all.” After a four-year transition period, wherein anyone could buy into Medicare, he’d outlaw private insurance and essentially dictate what health care providers could expect to be paid. It’d be a lot less than they take in today.
Biden, equally famously, has rejected “Medicare-for-all.” He’s calling for a new public health insurance option to be sold alongside private insurance plans in ObamaCare’s exchanges. This is a Medicare buy-in by another name, as the public option will essentially dictate reimbursement rates to providers, just as Medicare does.
Biden’s public plan would also include an option with no deductible. Combine that with the fact that certain people with lower incomes would not have to pay premiums, and the plan amounts to completely taxpayer-funded health insurance for a significant group of people.
That’s a baby step toward single-payer. And it’s illustrative of how a public option would amount to single-payer in slow motion.
Backed by the immense resources of the federal government and the ability to dictate prices to providers, a public plan would be able to offer premiums and deductibles so low that private coverage providers simply couldn’t compete.
In time, most Americans would transition to the new, low-cost government plan. Starved of customers and revenues, private insurers would gradually exit the market, leaving nothing but the public option behind. The millions of people previously employed by the private insurance industry would gradually, and then perhaps rapidly, find themselves out of work.
It’s impossible to predict how long this transition could take. Could it be four years – just like Bernie’s explicit plan for “Medicare-for-all”?
In the end, Biden and Sanders are united behind a policy program that would put the federal government in charge of an unprecedented share of the U.S. economy – and extract unprecedented sums from taxpayers to pay for it. The two men are merely describing this radical vision in different tones of voice, hoping Americans won’t catch on.