Burman, like other analysts, believes that Sanders is overestimating the revenue that several of his tax proposals would produce. A new analysis from Ben Ritz, the director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future, concluded that Sanders’s proposals would generate about $29 trillion in taxes, other revenue, and savings over 10 years, an unprecedented peacetime increase, but nonetheless about $25 trillion or more short of his plan’s total bill. (For comparison, that shortfall is about as much as the Congressional Budget Office projects the federal government will collect from the entire personal-income tax over that period.) Because he’s already exhausted almost every conceivable proposal to raise taxes on the rich, Ritz says, Sanders has only two options to cover the difference: “He’s either going to have to borrow the money or take it from the middle class.” In his stump speech and in debates, Sanders never acknowledges those possibilities.
Bernstein says that judging Sanders’s plan against such precise yardsticks is a mistake. The sheer size of his proposals, which dwarf the spending plans of any modern Democratic presidential nominee, should signal that they are more “aspirational than realistic,” Bernstein says. There is very little chance, he notes, that even if elected, Sanders could implement such a huge increase in government spending. Instead, he says, Sanders is offering a vision of a society where the government plays a much larger role in delivering social services, from education to health care—one that looks more like a Scandinavian country than America at any point in its earlier history.
“That’s just a very different economy than we’ve ever had or contemplated here,” says Bernstein, who served as the chief economist in Joe Biden’s vice-presidential office. “That’s not a value judgment. If we choose to have an economy with far more government in it, that model exists … People like Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are actually very explicit about this. They think the current model is broken and they are espousing a different one.”
To Bernstein, Sanders’s agenda is valuable less as a specific blueprint for governing than as a signpost for the direction he’d try to take American society in the years ahead. But other Democrats are terrified that voters might react less philosophically if presented with such an expansive—and expensive—program this fall.
“I'll tell you exactly what it adds up to,” former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said last night. “It adds to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands.”