A decade ago, mounting federal deficits were all Republicans could talk about. During the early years of President Obama’s administration former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called deficits the “most predictable economic crisis we have ever had in this country.” He claimed they would result in “the end of the American dream.”
By the midterm elections in 2010, the deficits were joined by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as the villain in Republican campaign messages. Remember the “death panels” some Republicans claimed it authorized?
The GOP rode these two horses rather successfully for the next six years. But Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare crashed and burned after President Trump was elected and their 2017 tax cut flopped with voters. Democrats ran on health care issues in the 2018 midterms and crushed the Republicans to retake the U.S. House.
Now – too soon I might add – the 2020 presidential election campaign has begun. When Democrats published a controversial policy called the Green New Deal (GND), Republicans quickly pounced on it as their next Obamacare-like issue to make voters afraid. They called this boogeyman – a socialist takeover — and its face would be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). AOC, as she is called, fits their attack profile perfectly; she’s a female minority.
In the coming months there will be much written about the GND. But in a nutshell, it’s an eight-page, nonbinding congressional resolution that calls for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2030. It also contains ambitious goals to eliminate inequality, upgrade infrastructure, improve air and water quality and provide justice and equality for minorities, disadvantaged peoples and neglected communities. It’s a quick read that can be found here.
The drafters did not put a price tag on this proposal but no doubt the cost would be enormous. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has acknowledged that the GND will be expensive. But she boldly contended the plan will pay for itself through economic growth — perhaps mocking the Republican’s similar claim for their tax cut. Some experts believe its objectives are technically feasible but not attainable within the next decade. Many Democrats have called it “aspirational.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to bring the GND to the Senate floor for a debate. His objective is to divide Democrats and force their 2020 presidential candidates to cast a vote that Republicans can use to brand them as socialists and extremists. But Mitch might want to exercise caution. According to a recent survey and report by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Americans who believe global warming is occurring outnumber those who don’t by more than five to one. Six in ten are aware it is mostly caused by human activity. And many are very concerned about its effects.
Climate change, however, is just one of several issues Democratic politicians are discussing in the current election cycle. Raising taxes on the wealthy is also getting a lot of attention. AOC is suggesting a 70 percent rate on individual incomes over $10 million. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is advocating for a 2 percent annual tax on household net worth that exceeds $50 million, with an additional 1 percent on wealth that exceeds $1 billion. Warren’s plan would affect around 75,000 households and raise approximately $2.75 trillion over the next decade according to two economists who evaluated it.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ social democratic platform in the 2016 primary election — Medicare for All, free college tuition, and a $15 minimum wage — was attractive to a lot of younger voters. His ideas were once thought to be too radical but some are being adopted by most of the current Democratic presidential candidates. And polls show they are appealing to a large percentage of Americans, even some Republicans.
So yes, the GOP will raise the specter of socialism in the coming months but that’s nothing new. Republican politicians have used fear of “the left” to garner votes for decades. They don’t run on conservative economic policies except tax cuts because they aren’t popular. They prefer to run against liberal policies, like higher taxes or universal health care and paint Democrats as “left-wing radicals.” It’s a way to position themselves as the lesser of two evils and they have been quite successful at it.
One of my concerns, however, is that GOP ideology is actually pushing this nation toward a more socialistic state by preventing compromise on centrist policies that benefit working-class Americans. Republicans won’t even consider minimum wage increases; they oppose unions that bargain for employee wages and benefits; their top priority is to repeal Obamacare and cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid; and yes, they will even cut Social Security benefits if they get the chance.
The major accomplishment of the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress was a tax cut that benefits the wealthy and corporations. It was an absurd policy at a time when wealth in the United States is being concentrated in the top 20 percent of the population and workers are getting meager wage increases. Inequality is smacking Americans right in the face and it’s just a matter of time before they revolt.
Voters should reject Republican fearmongering about the Green New Deal and other liberal policies Democrats are presenting. These proposals will serve to focus the conversation on climate change, inequality and other pressing problems that this nation needs to address. And that’s a good thing.