Candidates should provide enough detail to estimate the general impact that their plans will have on the government’s finances so voters can make informed decisions.
By Brendan McDermott | Fiscal Policy Analyst for PPI
Tomorrow, voters in 15 jurisdictions will tell the Democratic Party which candidate they want to see go against Donald Trump in November and lead the nation for the next four years. In January, PPI published an estimate of what four candidates’ agendas would cost over 10 years and how each candidate would offset those costs to shed light on how those candidates would lead. That estimate included Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who ended his campaign yesterday), and Vice President Joe Biden, but it did not include two other prominent candidates — Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Both of these candidates’ agendas would affect federal spending and revenue, but PPI decided that these candidates’ agendas could not be fairly compared to their rivals’ at this time, both because many of their proposals were not specific enough to score and there were not enough independent estimates of their proposals. All candidates should continue to provide detail on what they want the country and federal budget to look like during the next administration so that voters understand the decision they will make in the voting booth.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Senator Amy Klobuchar provides offsets and pay-fors for many of her proposals, but her agenda lacks many key details, making it difficult to fairly assess its cost at this time. For example, Klobuchar says her public option for health insurance would let people buy into “Medicare or Medicaid,” but federal spending on this public option could vary considerably depending on which health care program it was based on. To tackle climate change, Klobuchar explains some of the policies she would spend money on to “[expand] renewable energy and [transform] the energy sector,” but she has not given specific dollar figures for most of these policies. PPI found few independent estimates of Klobuchar’s proposals, which made it difficult to fairly compare her agenda to those of her competitors.
Klobuchar has committed to “lowering the debt to GDP ratio by the end of her first term” — an admirable goal, but one for which the numbers do not add up. Klobuchar would raise $300 billion over 10 years for a deficit reduction “fund” by increasing the corporate income tax by 2 percentage points (on top of other plans to raise the tax) and conducting a “government-wide budget review” to identify duplicative spending. But according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, it would take about $3.5 trillion of deficit reduction over the next 10 years to hold debt steady at the end of the next President’s term, and $5.2 trillion to hold debt to what it will be at the start of the next President’s term. Whichever of these goals Klobuchar were to pursue, a $300 billion investment would not come close to achieving it.
Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg (D-NY)
Like Klobuchar, some of Bloomberg’s proposals lack important details that make it difficult to assess what they would cost, and independent sources have assessed fewer of his plans than those of other candidates. He has committed to increasing tax credits that benefit low income people, but has not explained how much he would expand them by. Like the four candidates PPI scored, he says he would create a “minimum benefit” for Social Security, but he has not specified what that benefit would be, as Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and Biden all do. And unlike his opponents, Bloomberg has yet to articulate a single policy to improve Social Security’s solvency, promising only to “consider options for preserving and strengthening Social Security’s long-term finances” even as he embraces costly benefit expansions. His campaign claims that the tax plans he has proposed would raise $5 trillion over 10 years and that these tax increases would fully pay for his new spending, but there are not enough independent estimates of his plans to verify his revenue estimate, let alone whether it would cover his equally ambiguous spending amounts.
Other Candidates Have Produced Far More Detailed Plans
The other four leading Democratic presidential candidates at the time of our estimate (Sanders, Warren, Biden, and Buttigieg) all provided enough details to at least generally estimate the fiscal impact of their agendas, and outside sources estimated at least some of their plans independently. Even without these details, it is relatively safe to say that Klobuchar’s and Bloomberg’s agendas will not be nearly as expensive as those of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have proposed to increase spending by $53 trillion and $35 trillion, respectively. PPI estimates that Warren has proposed $8 trillion more in new spending than new revenue, while Sanders’ deficit is a whopping $25 trillion — neither of which Klobuchar or Bloomberg are likely to exceed. But their proposed spending could exceed what Pete Buttigieg campaigned on (less than $8 trillion of new spending), and their shortfalls may exceed those of Joe Biden (who has offset all but $2 trillion of new spending — the entirety of which would be for long-term public investments).
Any of these limiting factors may change: candidates are regularly proposing new policies, independent analysts are still releasing new estimates of their impacts, and small changes in publicly-available details could have big effects on a policy’s estimated cost (or the ability to make an estimate at all). But candidates should provide enough detail to estimate the general impact that their plans will have on the government’s finances so voters can make informed decisions.