Rebutting Bernie Sanders’s Argument in Favor of the $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Package

August 6, 2021 Updated: August 9, 2021


One underestimates Sen. Bernie Sanders at one’s own risk. Any politician able to win over presumably bright college students by telling them that he wants to get the money out of politics while, at the same time, offering to give them a free college education is unusually clever, perhaps mesmerizing.

For those of you not yet under the Vermont senator’s spell, let me point out some of the beguiling rhetoric in his Aug. 3 Wall Street Journal opinion article, “Why We Need the $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Package.”

While praising earlier post-COVID emergency legislation for doing much to help Americans cope with the effects of the pandemic and subsequent government-mandated shutdowns, Sanders complains that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (“plan” being a favorite word of socialists) didn’t address “the long-neglected structural crises that many U.S. families face.” Sanders then lists three (alleged) “structural crises”: “Three people own more wealth than the bottom 50%, real wages for workers haven’t increased in almost 50 years, and we are facing the existential threat of climate change.”

The first Sanders-labeled crisis is true, but irrelevant and misleading. We don’t live in a zero-sum society in which the rich take wealth from the poor; on the contrary, the mega-rich have provided abundant value to others, i.e., they have enriched their fellow man without impoverishing anyone. We need more billionaires—more wealth creators and employers—not fewer.

The second so-called crisis is based on flawed calculations. The average American has a far higher standard of living today than 50 years ago, with myriad consumer products requiring far fewer hours of labor to purchase today. That’s partly because real wages are actually up by approximately half and partly because market competition has pushed prices lower while pushing quality higher—except in areas of the economy where the government has intervened.

As for the allegedly existential threat of climate change, that pseudo-religious belief rests on the flimsiest of scientific foundations. Climate change has long served as cover for a radical socialist agenda, and treating dire predictions as proven or even likely is a big green lie.

Sanders then indulges in rhetorical hyperbole, claiming that Republicans in recent years (presumably the Trump years) passed “trillions in tax breaks.” Trillions? In Barack Obama’s last year as president, FY 2016, Uncle Sam collected $299 billion from the corporate profits tax. In 2020, that figure was $211 billion—a less than $100 billion drop, not “trillions.” As for the personal income tax, revenue from that source was higher in every year of the Trump presidency than during the Obama presidency. Bottom line: “trillions” of tax breaks is a myth. By the way, when one considers how the Trump tax cut boosted employment and wages for blue-collar workers, most notably minorities, it seems surprising that a self-professed champion of the common man such as Sanders the socialist would want to undo such gains.

As for spending, Sanders offers a central planner’s dream list. Space forbids debunking all of his proposed spending initiatives, but let’s look at a few:

Sanders advocates free community college for all Americans. That would be a gross misallocation of resources. Nothing against community colleges (they’re relatively excellent value in higher education), but the fact is that colleges already are cranking out far more degrees than job markets can absorb. Increasing enrollment would only exacerbate the problem of frustrated grads on the outside looking in. As a country drowning in red ink, we don’t need more wasteful spending.

Sanders writes, “We will also make sure that we have enough doctors, nurses, and dentists in underserved areas.” Really? Think about it: What does it mean for government to guarantee that more professionals will serve in designated areas? It sounds to me like medical professionals are going to start being treated like their Cuban (“free health care”) counterparts: Go where the state tells you to go, because you won’t have a choice.

Make “an unprecedented investment in affordable housing”? Apart from the dubious history of poor-quality public housing, the more the government dictates what must be built, the more supply chains—already badly disrupted by the COVID lockdowns—will be stressed. The result will be that many businesses will experience shortages of inputs they need to make the products their customers (you and I) want. That’s socialism for you—economic discombobulation on a massive scale.

Pay for people with disabilities to receive care at home rather than in expensive nursing facilities? Sounds great. But where will Uncle Sam suddenly find enough skilled personal care workers to provide this one-on-one care? It takes such a worker a lot less time to walk down the hall to see 10 patients than to drive all around town to do so. And, of course, the government will have to monitor and regulate all these workers, so the government will need to hire more bureaucrats to keep records, etc.

And, of course, Sanders continues to push for a Green New Deal, a central planner’s dream agenda. The newest wrinkle in this master plan is the Biden proposal to create a “Civilian Climate Corps, which will hire hundreds of thousands of young people to protect our natural resources and fight against climate change.” That’s rather vague. What are they going to do, stand in front of a tree so that nobody cuts it down? Camp out in the country to count how many critters of a certain species they see? And how are they expected to “fight against climate change” when the causes of climate change are far more complex than our current scientific knowledge can decipher?

Maybe these young Americans can be paid to write anti-fossil fuel op-eds, or to work as teaching assistants to help brainwash children, or even organize rallies promoting pro-Green New Deal politicians. Ah, the possibilities are endless (especially for waste and mischief).

Sanders closes his call for support for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package by telling us that “we are living in an unprecedented moment” and “now is the time for bold action.” For once, I agree with Bernie Sanders 100 percent. The proposed bill is an unprecedentedly gigantic spending proposal.

With $28.6 trillion dollars of federal debt already on the books, let’s take the bold action of saying, “Enough! No more!”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Mark Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson is an economist, who retired from the faculty of Grove City College in Pennsylvania where he remains fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He is the author of several books on topics as varied as American economic history, anonymous characters in the Bible, the wealth inequality issue, and climate change, among others.