The Democratic Candidates' Bidding War: Can Anybody Even Compile A Full List?

In the run-up to tonight’s first debate among the 2020 Democratic candidates, many have noted the outbreak of what is being called the “bidding war.” In this war, the “bids” consist of proposals for new government spending, handout and giveaway programs. Among both the candidates and those covering the process, the assumption appears to be that the game will be won by the candidate who bids the biggest collection of the most expensive and extravagant such new programs. With time running out to get bids on the table before the debates begin, the last few weeks have seen a blizzard of new and ever-more-expensive proposals for buying the votes of the electorate. After all, when you get hit at one of these debates with a question about some human problem, you certainly don’t want to be caught without having already proposed a program or handout to “solve” that particular problem.

Meanwhile, don’t worry, none of these moderators will bother to ask you how you plan to pay for your various proposals. Obviously, we all know that payment can come from the infinite pile of free government loot. In the off chance that somebody tries to press you, you can always refer to your plan for a new “billionaire’s tax.” No details required.

A funny thing about this process is how piecemeal it is. One day one candidate comes out with a proposal for Medicare for All, and another day another candidate comes out with a proposal for a universal childcare system, and on yet another day another candidate comes out with a proposal for a renters’ tax credit. Can anybody give us a complete list of all the proposed new programs? How else are we ever going to get an idea of what kind of country these people intend to leave us with when all their programs get enacted?

Well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve spent some quality time the last couple of days trying to compile a relatively comprehensive list, and I’ve given up in frustration. You might think that the candidates would put a full set of all the proposals they support on their websites, and maybe even a detail or two of what these proposals would look like, but you would be wrong. As just a few examples:

  • Elizabeth Warren has tried to beat the pack by putting out a “plan for everything.” But go to her website and what you find, instead of “plans,” is an endless list of subjects on which she says she has a plan, but with little to no indication as to what said plan may be. For example, does Lizzy support the Green New Deal? Axios says that she is a “co-sponsor.” But on her website you will find no mention of the GND, and instead only a vague reference to “my energy and climate resiliency plan.” No clue here as to what that may be. How about support for reparations for blacks? News reports tell me that EW has seen that one and also raised just a few days ago with a proposal for reparations as well for gay people. I can’t find any mention of reparations for either group on the website. Can you?

  • The Kamala Harris website is extremely bare-bones, and is set up to make it almost impossible to get to the substance of the site without having first contributed money. Medicare for All? GND? Reparations? Universal child care? No answers here. Hey, she’ll “defend American values” and “fight for economic justice”!

  • Cory Booker’s website doesn’t say anything about issues at all. The section headed “Jobs” is about how to apply for a job with his campaign. Want to find out about his proposed renters’ tax credit? I guess you’ll have to follow him on Twitter.

So comprehensiveness is hopeless. I’m just going to start a list here, and see where it takes me. For all I know, this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

We begin with the so-called Green New Deal. When you first saw that one, you probably thought that it was the ultimate blow-out set of proposals designed to make it completely impossible to out-bid. No the GND is not just about energy and global warming. As described in my post of March 19, it also included as major additional proposals such things as:

remaking the entire energy and electricity sectors of the economy; plus total government takeover of health care; plus redoing or reconstructing every house and building in the country; plus government-guaranteed housing for all; plus government-guaranteed jobs for all; plus high-speed rail projects everywhere; [and so forth] . . . .

That post of mine noted that a group called the American Action Forum had just come out with a very rough ten year cost for the GND of $93 trillion; but I pointed out that in just one area that I happen to know a lot about — cost of a fossil-fuel-free electrical grid — the AAF team had understated the cost of the GND by at least $50 trillion. Perhaps that is a rounding error for these purposes.

The GND promptly attracted an absolute majority of the Democratic candidates as supporters or even co-sponsors. Axios here lists Sanders, Booker, Harris, Warren, Klobuchar and Gillibrand as co-sponsors; Williamson, Castro, Yang, Delaney and Inslee as “supporters” or “supporters in principle”; O’Rourke as having his own almost-as-crazy plan; and only Hickenlooper and Gabbard as having been willing to say out loud that they cannot support this. Joe Biden, who announced after Axios made their list, has since “embraced” the “framework” of the GND, according to the Washington Post.

If you are one of these candidates, the problem with the GND is that everybody else, including all the major candidates, has already signed on. If you sign on too, you haven’t distinguished yourself in any way. Obviously, you need to outbid these guys. And thus the bidding contest. Where to start?

  • Reparations. Back in April, Al Sharpton held an event for his National Action Network, and invited all the candidates. According to CNBC, about 15 showed up, and for their trouble got asked by Sharpton whether they supported a bill in Congress to “study” reparations for blacks. All of them affirmed their support. (Among the major candidates, Biden was not yet in the race.) Anyway, now that everyone supports reparations, that’s not going to distinguish you either. Meanwhile, nobody has remotely tried to put a cost number on this. With some 37 million blacks in the country, a lousy $10,000 each (that won’t go very far!) will cost some $370 billion. Make it $100,000 and it will cost $3.7 trillion.

  • Free college/student debt forgiveness. Bernie Sanders started the ball rolling on this one. Elizabeth Warren promptly joined his call for free college, and raised him by calling for the forgiveness of up to $50,000 of student debt. Not to be outbid, Bernie has recently come out for forgiveness of all student debt, a number said to be in the range of $1.6 trillion and continuing to grow rapidly.

  • Housing as a “human right.” Like “Medicare for all,” that one already seemed to be in the GND. Cory Booker decided to top it, with a plan for a tax credit for all renters to cover the difference between 30% of their income and the fair market rent of their apartment. OK, looks like everybody can now afford a penthouse on Park Avenue on the government’s nickel.

  • Expanding social security. As I reported in this post from February, the Social Security trustees’ report for 2018 stated that the so-called SS “trust fund” has a long-term underfunded status of some $13 trillion; more pessimistic forecasters put the figure at up to double that. So why not propose to expand the benefits paid by Social Security? Again, Bernie led the way. But essentially all the other major candidates have since added their names: Warren, Harris, Gillibrand, Booker and O’Rourke (according to a Forbes piece here). The Forbes piece says that Biden has not yet made his bid, but I wouldn’t expect him to hold out for too long.

I think you can see the problem here. As soon as you think you have made the ultimate untoppable topping bid, everybody else comes along and matches. Is there any way to actually win at this game?

The New York Times in Monday’s edition comes along just in time with the perfect solution for you: the “New Deal for Caregiving.” An op-ed by Ai-Jen Poo and Benjamin Veghte identifies a new human “crisis” that I bet you hadn’t even thought of yet — the crisis that “a vast majority” of Americans are unable to afford to take care of their families:

A vast majority of Americans cannot afford to take care of their families. But they see it as their responsibility, and too often their failure. To get by, they cobble together solutions, even quitting their jobs to look after a newborn or when a parent becomes ill. Things are getting worse as baby boomers age into their 70s. America’s piecemeal and expensive care infrastructure, created a half century ago, has reached a breaking point.

Obviously, only government can solve this crisis, and the only possible solution is a gigantic new universal entitlement:

Our organization will unveil a new social insurance program on Monday called Universal Family Care that could fix this social crisis. It would provide affordable early child care, paid leave, assistance for people with disabilities and elder care for people of all incomes. We need an integrated approach . . . .

Finally, here’s something on which none of the candidates has yet placed a bid. (Warren’s proposal for universal childcare is but a pale shadow of this new comprehensive proposal.) You could be the first to make the offer!

Thankfully, there are no limits on how much in the way of handouts, goodies, and free stuff our government can pass out. And all of course at no cost to anyone, except maybe a few billionaires. Expect to see many more extravagant topping bids before this bidding war comes to an end.