I Can’t Sell It If I Won’t Buy It

A couple of months ago there was an article on another site arguing that one of the reasons some Democrats were against Bernie Sanders was that they were “afraid to sell the case for higher taxes.”    More particularly, meaning that they aren’t willing to make the case for the tax increases necessary to pay for all the programs he was proposing.   Leaving aside the rather nebulous nature of his healthcare plan, and the unlikelihood of his college plan being accepted,  my response was “Do you really expect me to tell people in my area that their tax bill will double?”  That would be a tough sell in any event, even if I was really enthusiastic about the programs.

The problem is that I already live in a highly taxed state.  Besides our federal taxes, we also pay state taxes.  Income tax, sales tax, property taxes, and miscellaneous other taxes add to our bill.   We wouldn’t be just increasing federal taxes under his programs, in order to pay for them, state taxes would also increase.  There’s no way around that, it’s basic math.   I’d also have to explain that they’d lose Medicare, employer health insurance, or Medicaid in exchange for that undefined “single payer.”

But they’d save money, right?  Not necessarily.  Let me use myself as an example.   I’m older, lower middle class, no kids, and I don’t pay for the health insurance from my employer. In many ways, except for my marital status, I’m in the “median demographic” for my area.    Which is why I wanted to take a closer look, and Vox has a nice tax calculator, which will tell you what your taxes would do under each candidate’s plan.   I checked my own income, and put in some information for some of the local people I know who are seasonally employed and get Medicaid under the ACA.   What were the results?  We’d pay from $800 to more than $2000 extra in taxes, and that doesn’t include any increases in state taxes.  Using figures from our state university system, our state budget would have to increase by over $700 million a year at a minimum to pay for the “free tuition” program.

What that means for me personally would be that my “buffer” would disappear.  That’s the money that isn’t covering food, rent, clothing, and transportation.  I normally put that into savings, to cover unexpected expenses, donations to charities and political campaigns, and other various things.  Add those extra taxes?  That money would be gone, and I’d be making enough to pay my living expenses, with not a lot of margin for error.  I know that seems selfish, and the response might be “Sucks to be you, but everyone else benefits,” right?   Remember those other people I mentioned?  For them it would be a disaster.  It’d knock them down from “working poor” to “poor,” or from “poor” to “extreme poverty.”  They already have no margin of error, and those extra tax bills would put them into dire straits.  Remember, they’re already getting “free healthcare,” or if they are going through the exchange, their subsidy covers most of their insurance premium.

I can look around the country and see a lot of people in that same boat.   It’s easy to say “tax the rich more,” and I’m not against that.  Yes, if you’re in that hypothetical “average family” that gets trotted out, you might break even or save some money with taxes instead of what you’re currently spending on healthcare.   But the problem is that everyone is going to get taxed more, including the people who can least afford to pay them.

I’m not necessarily against higher taxes, and yes, I can sell people on it if I can point to exactly what they will get, and explain how it benefits them.  The problem I have with Bernie Sanders’ programs and tax plans?  I can’t do that.  I can’t point to specifics as to how it will benefit them, and in reality, it’s more likely to hurt many of them than help them.  Fear has nothing to do with it.  I can’t buy it, and if I can’t do that, don’t expect me to try to sell it.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “I Can’t Sell It If I Won’t Buy It

  1. dbtheonly

    You old enough to remember Fritz Mondale? Never again.

    Single payer may work here and it does work in other countries. It’s the road we take, trying to get there from here, that worries me. So many moving parts, so much to change. So much to go wrong. Just as an example, Doctors incurr, on average, how much in student loans? What income level is needed to pay off those loans. What are the expenses of the minimal Doctor’s Office? Those figures give us a floor, below which Doctor’s incomes can’t be allowed to fall.

    • Mondale is the perfect example of what happens when a candidate said openly that he was going to raise taxes, and not even close to what Bernie is proposing either. It was one of the most epic blowouts in history, he only took his home state and the District of Columbia.

      The thing I’ve pointed out about single payer is that if you look at other countries, there are many different means of funding and delivering it. There are even wide variations in what is or isn’t covered, and often there’s a private insurance market which covers additional things. That’s if they have single payer to begin with, some use mandates to achieve universal coverage. So unless you’ve got exact details of what you’re implementing, it’s a generic wish list. It’s like saying “I want cake,” without specifying what kind of cake or whether it’ll have frosting on it. Then there’s the issue of switchover, which means “how are you going to switch?” which seems to get very, very short shrift. The problems with the free tuition plan are that it’s not just tuition that’s in the expenses, it’s other things, and it requires states to opt in. For my state, that’s an additional 700 million and more realistically, an additional billion dollars in state spending. That means either something else gets cut, or taxes get raised, and no state legislature is going to go for it.

      • dbtheonly

        I’m the guy who tries to figure out the practical ramifications of the “brilliant idea du jour”, so yeah, how does single payer work, and how do you get there from here, are questions that interest me. and yes, I’ve been this way pretty much forever, so I’m just not annoying you. I annoy everybody.

        You mention that there are multiple versions of single payer, and yes, the fuzzier the idea the easier it is for people to sign on to it. You’ve got your alligator in the swamp, I’ve got the devil in the details. Same thing. My original comment was that health care has lots of moving parts. Each will be impacted by the change. I’m concerned that we don’t crash the system while trying to do the upgrade.

        I’m unconvinced that universal college education, free or otherwise, is the panacea claimed for it. Back to the Wizard of Oz, does the college diploma give you the brains or does it merely prove to the world that you’ve got the brains? Again though, the specifics are important before we can begin to count the cost and decide if this is a good use of resources.

        • I can tell you that a medical school graduate (not a doctor, just to get through medical school) is going to have between $100 to $200 thousand dollars in debt. Then there is their residency, which lasts from 3-5 years, depending on the specialty, and during which they’ll receive not much of a salary (generally <$50K). I used to work in a surgical residency program, and the residents were always complaining about it. I also have a pretty good idea of what costs are, since I had to do many budgets.

          As you point out, our healthcare system is complex and has many moving parts. The "single payer" countries that many like to point to had one thing that we don't: The chance to start over. That is, a little thing called "World War II" happened.

          • dbtheonly

            Okay, figure $150k @ 5% monthly student loan payment of about $1500/mo.? Probably a little light on the interest rate. That means about $5k/mo. personal income is probably minimal.

            And we’ll need to revamp the method of delivery. Individual offices can get expensive, but who wants to work closely with someone they don’t like? Communal equipment & staff?

            I know no one who went into medicine for the money. But Med School is tough enough on its own. The system can’t make it economically disadvantageous as well.

            I’d like your idea on what a minimal income for a Doctor would need to be.