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Democrats: Learn from the Tea Party

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

With the entry of Sen. Bernie "Feel the Bern" Sanders into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes and some of his announced competitors embracing at least some of his key proposals, there is a danger the party might become so divided that today's clear opportunity to defeat President Trump is frittered away.

In other words, will Democrats face the same fate suffered by Republicans with the emergence of the ultra-right Tea Party and its ideological purists, which along with the unpopularity of Trump resulted in Democrats wresting control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the GOP in the 2018 midterm elections?

Having a healthy ideological debate over core issues during the primary season is fine, giving voters real choices as they decide which of the many Democratic hopefuls will face off against Donald Trump, assuming he is the candidate. But there is danger along the way.

While Medicare for All and free college tuition are great campaign slogans, the devil, of course, is in the details -- including the price tags. Providing a form of Medicare for everyone could come in many forms, as could plans to increase access to college.

There is no doubt Republicans will attempt to use cost estimates that will run into the billions of dollars to predict certain higher taxes under a Democratic presidency and warn of runaway deficits. As they do so, they will ignore skyrocketing deficits resulting from Trump's economic policies and the Trump/GOP tax cuts. Hypocrisy runs rampant on Capitol Hill, and Republicans are well versed in the practice.

Trump and many Republicans already are claiming that Democrats are shifting towards socialism, raising a specter that likely will be drilled home by the GOP in the months ahead. Ironic since Trump's pal, Putin, is perhaps the socialist-in-chief and Trump seems to so admire him.

Here are some of the most important proposals from Sen. Sanders:

Key Sanders Proposals

Labor: Sanders has pushed for a $15 per hour minimum wage and introduced legislation in January to hike the federal minimum, calling the current $7.25 an hour a "starvation wage." Democratic rivals Sens, Cory Booker, NJ; Kirsten Gillibrand, (NY), Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, MN and Elizabeth Warren (MA) are co-sponsors.

Taxes: Sanders has blasted the Republican tax plan passed in December 2017 as a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy. He wants to tax estates starting at $3.5 million, with a 77 percent rate on billionaire estates. Other 2020 Democratic candidates have proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy and cutting taxes on the middle class.

Investing/banks: Sanders introduced a bill to cap the size of financial institutions, which would break up banks including J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. He unveiled a plan to restrict stock repurchases, placing conditions on share buybacks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), endorsed the proposal.

Education: In 2017, Sanders introduced a plan to make community college tuition-free and eliminate tuition at four-year universities for students from families with income of $125,000 or less. He also has pushed for more student loan forgiveness. While some of his rivals, including Gillibrand, generally agree, Klobuchar said it's too expensive.

Climate change: Sanders has endorsed a version of the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan to cut carbon emissions and address climate change. Other 2020 Democratic contenders have endorsed some version of the plan, aggressively supported by by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY.

It is clear, at least from early indications, that Sanders is deadly serious about his candidacy, raising a reported $5.9 million within 24 hours of his announcement. That eclipsed by far the $1.5 million previously announced by Sen. Kamala Harris of California. Sanders raised more than $200 million in challenging Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Where all this will head in the months ahead could determine who becomes the next occupant of the Oval Office. Whether it will be one of the many Democratic candidates who are seeking the nomination could depend on if sharp ideological divisions can be avoided and if the ultimate nominee can gain unified support.

Those may be big "ifs," but Democrats need to learn from the Tea Party and not become so ideologically entrenched that they blow this election.

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