A Canadian Review of The U.S. Democratic Party 2020 Platform

Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2020

[Friends of Science editor’s note: The USA is Canada’s largest trading partner and Republican President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Thus, it is of interest to Friends of Science Society readers to understand events and proposed policies south of the border.]

I rarely comment on the politics of foreign countries, but like many other Canadians I have been struck by the intensity of the presidential election campaign taking place in the United States. Much of the intensity, and apparent ill will, derives from the perceived personality and ethical qualities of the candidates This often seems to crowd out discussion about the comparative merits of the platforms on which each is running.

A political party’s platform is the only place that the voter can go to obtain a relatively comprehensive statement of what it would do if granted power by the electorate. A platform is not a guarantee of what will be done, as a party once in office may find itself constrained by all sorts of forces and constitutional arrangements. A platform sometimes may be deliberately vague, and leave out factors to which the party prefers to avoid drawing attention. It is, however, a set of promises about what the party will try to do, and whether it likes it or not, the legitimate standard against which the public can justifiably assess its subsequent performance. In a properly functioning democratic society, in other words, it is not something to be ignored or belittled.

During the recently televised debate between the candidates, the moderators asked questions about whether a Democratic Party Administration would implement a “Green New Deal”. During the campaigning for the Democratic Party leadership, different versions of a Green New Deal were endorsed by the candidates. Some of these included not just a profound reorientation of United States energy and environmental policies but also extremely ambitious promises with respect to tax reform, health, education, immigration and social welfare policies and spending. Some of these policies could have significant impacts on Canada.

Joe Biden, the Presidential candidate, subsequently tried to distance himself from the term “Green New Deal”, leaving the U.S. public and foreign observers like those of us in Canada to wonder what is really at stake. In a search for clarity, I went to the final text of the Democratic Party’s platform approved in August, 2020, and I selected from it the items that, in my view, may have a very large impact on the U.S. economy and/or public finances. The highlights are summarized in the following four-page document. In it, I have generally stayed as close as possible to the text of the platform, adding notes where I thought it useful to explain why the matter may have important economic or financial implications.

Based on this review, I would make four general observations.

The public debate about whether or not Joe Biden supports the “Green New Deal” is a rhetorical distraction. As is obvious from the text of the platform, the Democrats are committed to making “climate change” the centre of US public policy. They have embraced goals that will dramatically increase the cost of energy services while reducing their supply and reliability. These goals are unrealistic, extremely expensive and probably unattainable. Moreover, they rest on mistaken premises about what the rest of the world will do to transform its energy use.

The platform foresees a vast expansion of publicly-funded services in the health, education and welfare fields. The underlying premise appears to be that there are no limits to the extent to which the U.S. federal taxpayer should pay for increased services to all who are deemed to be disadvantaged in some way.

The platform promises an open-doors policy for both legal and illegal immigrants, including extending the benefits of the much-enriched social services regime to them.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the platform makes no reference to, or takes any account of, the financial and economic costs of delivering on the platform. There is no doubt in my mind that the costs of the climate policies alone would run into the many trillions of dollars. The result would almost certainly harm the prospects for new infrastructure for the production and transportation of hydrocarbons.

There are, interestingly, only the vaguest references to taxes. The message should be very clear between the lines: if the Democratic Party wins the U.S. national elections, taxes there are going up – a lot.

THE 2020 U.S DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM

        COMMITMENTS WITH MAJOR ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL IMPACTS

Introduction

On August 18, 2020, the Democratic National Convention approved a platform recommended by the party’s Platform Committee. The platform is over 90 pages long and much of it is a series of statements concerning the values and objectives of the party. There are, however, several places where the document states fairly clearly the party’s intentions to take actions that could reasonably be defined as “commitments”. I have read through the document to identify the commitments that appear, on the surface at least, to have significant economic and/or financial implications.

The platform does not contain any estimate of what these commitments will cost, either in financial or economic terms. In summarizing them, I will simplify the language used, but provide a reference to the page number so that anyone interested can see for himself or herself the precise wording of the commitment.

The following summary follows the same organization of headings as is found in the platform itself.

Building a Stronger, Fairer Economy

A Democratic Party Administration will:

• Ensure workers are guaranteed at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers and family units to recover from childbirth or child adoption. (page 16)
• Enact universal, high-quality pre-K programs for three- and four-year-old’s. (page 16)
• Install 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles. (page 17)
• Ensure that domestic sourcing requirements are included an any future infrastructure legislation. (page 17)
• Oppose any policy that promotes the privatization of public services or infrastructure. Page 18)
• Seek to make the U.S. agricultural sector net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. (page 19)
• Strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard (that requires prescribed use of ethanol in motor fuels) and supporting E15 blends (which damage engines). (page 19)
• Create a new tax credit of up to $15,000 to help first-time homebuilders and make the tax credit refundable and advanceable so buyers can get assistance at the time of purchase. (page 21)
• Raise corporate taxes (by which amount is not specified). (page 22)
• Raise estate taxes back to the historical norm (prior to 2018, the estate tax exemption was $5.5 million; the Trump Administration raised the exemption to $11.1 million). (page 22)

Achieving Universal Affordable Health Care

A Democratic Administration will:

• Incentivize states to expand Medicaid and enroll low-income people who do not otherwise have health insurance in a new, high-quality public option, without premiums. (page 24)

Reforming the Criminal Justice System

A Democratic Administration will:

• Repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences, incentivize states to do the same, and make all sentencing reductions retroactive so a judge can reconsider past cases where their hands were tied. (page 38)
• End the use of private prisons and private detention centers. (page 38)

Healing the Soul of America

A Democratic Administration will:

• Empower local governments to combat gentrification trends that disproportionately harm long-term residents of colour, and create a Community Restoration Fund “to repair the toxic legacy of historic investments in transportation that were designed to enforce racial segregation”. (page 40)
• Outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in housing, public accommodations, access to credit, education, jury service, and federal programs. (page 42)

Climate Change and Environmental Justice

A Democratic Administration will:

• Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. (page 50)
• “Restore protections” (i.e. reimpose restrictions on energy development) on federal lands and waters. (page 50)
• Seek to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible”. (page 51)
• Commit to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants (i.e. shut down all existing coal, oil and natural gas-fired power plants) by 2035. (page 51)
• Dramatically expand solar and wind energy deployment through community-based and utility-scale systems, including in rural areas. (page 51)
• Within five years, install 500 million solar panels, including eight million solar roofs and community solar energy systems, and 60,000 wind turbines. (page 51)
• Invest in interstate transmission projects and grid technologies to link solar and wind power to rural communities. (page 51)
• Pay for energy-saving upgrades to up to two million low-income households and public housing units within five years. (page 51)
• Set a national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030. (page 51)
• Accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles in the United States. (page 52)
• Transition the entire fleet of 500,000 school buses to zero-emission alternatives within five years (such vehicles cost four to five times as much as diesel-powered school buses). (page 52)
• Partner with state and local governments to install at least 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles within five years (such stations cost at least $2,000 and up to $20,000 each). (page 52)
• Apply a carbon adjustment fee at the border to products from countries that “fail to live up to their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement”). Page 52
• Plant millions of trees.(page 53)

A 21st Century Immigration System

(Note: Immigration policies have different, often controversial, impacts on national economies and on domestic security. The economic consequences of the following commitments are thus subject to debate,)

A Democratic Administration will:

• Immediately terminate discriminatory travel and immigration bans that disproportionately impact Muslim, Arab and African people, and invite those whose visas have been denied to reapply to come to the United States. (page 61)
• Support legislation to ensure that no president can enact discriminatory bans ever again. (page 61)
• End prosecution of asylum seekers at the border and policies that force them to apply from safe third countries. (page 62)
• End workplace and community raids and protect sensitive locations like schools, health care facilities, benefits offices and DMVs from immigration enforcement actions. (page 63)

Providing a World-Class Education

A Democratic Administration will:

• Support K-12 instruction in civics and climate literacy. (page 65)
• Work with states to offer pre-K for all three- and four-year-old’s. (page 65)
• Make child care and dependent tax credits significantly more generous and increase funding to states to guarantee that low-income and middle-class families can afford child care. (page 66)
• Triple Title I funding, which benefits schools that serve low-income students. (page 66)
• Expand universal free school meal programs, support wraparound health care and nutrition services, before- and after-school programs, adult education classes, and other services by significantly expanding the community school model. (page 66)
• Ban for-profit private charter schools from receiving public funding. Page 67)
• Oppose private school vouchers and other policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system. (page 67)
• Make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students whose families make less than $125,000 – roughly 80 percent of the American people. (page 69)
• Make community colleges and trade schools tuition-free for all students, including Dreamers. (page 69)
• Increase federal support for child care on college campuses and for wraparound services, including covering the cost of textbooks and fees for low-income students and establishing programs to address campus food insecurity. (page 69)
• Work to authorize up to $10,000 in student debt relief per borrower to deal with the Covid-19 situation. (page 70)
• Work to pause monthly billing and stop interest from accruing on federal student loans for people earning less that $25,000, and cap payments at no more than 5% of discretionary income for those earning less than $25,000. (page 70)
• Automatically forgive without tax liability remaining federal student loan debt after 25 years. (page 70)
• Support forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student loan debt. (page 70)

Revitalizing American Diplomacy

A Democratic Administration will:

• Fully integrate climate change into U.S. foreign policy and national security strategies. (page 79)
• Immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. (page 79)
• Restore funding to the Global Environment Facility and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (page 80) (Note: This presumably includes resuming contributions to the global Green Climate Fund, which would entail about $33 billion per year in U.S, payments)

About the Author: 

Robert Lyman is an economist with 27 years’ experience as an analyst, policy advisor and manager in the Canadian federal government, primarily in the areas of energy, transportation, and environmental policy. He was also a diplomat for 10 years. Subsequently he has worked as a private consultant conducting policy research and analysis on energy and transportation issues as a principal for Entrans Policy Research Group. He is a frequent contributor of articles and reports for Friends of Science, a Calgary-based independent organization concerned about climate change-related issues. He resides in Ottawa, Canada. Full bio.

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October 16, 2020 at 10:21PM

Author: uwe.roland.gross

Don`t worry there is no significant man- made global warming. The global warming scare is not driven by science but driven by politics. Al Gore and the UN are dead wrong on climate fears. The IPCC process is a perversion of science.