Even though we’re more than a year away from the next presidential election, we are already seeing a lot of activity from the many people hoping to be the nation’s leader. While President Donald Trump remains the presumptive nominee on the Republican side, there is a long list of Democrats vying to challenge him. The broad slate of presidential candidates also brings a variety of policy ideas. By analyzing these policy proposals, we can see what issues are emerging as the big trends for our country over the next few years.
A bold proposal called the Green New Deal has been developed by progressive candidates who believe the United States needs to take aggressive actions to combat climate change. The proposal is being pushed by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who, even though she is not running for president, is having a big impact on the national policy debate. The proposal would swiftly transform the U.S. from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy. It would include investments in infrastructure, combined with regulations to reduce reliance on polluting resources. While all Democrat presidential candidates are talking about addressing climate change, this idea tends to attract the more progressive element of the group, because it would require dramatic changes to implement and could cause economic distortions to accomplish its objectives.
A major component of Democratic victories in the 2018 election cycle was a focus on health care reform. Much of the current debate revolves around the Affordable Care Act. Democrats want to build on the reforms made during the Obama administration while Trump argues that the law should be repealed and replaced with something else. One proposal coming from Sen. Bernie Sanders is that the U.S. should move toward universal health care. This proposal has also been called “Medicare for All” because it would expand the existing Medicare system to everyone, regardless of age. In its purest form, this proposal would eliminate private health insurance and move it completely to the government. A more limited approach to this proposal is for the government to take a more active role in regulating prices for health care products, such as prescription drugs.
Democrats running for president express concerns that our economic system is inherently unfair. One popular idea to address this problem is to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. A bolder idea is to institute a “universal basic income” approach, in which everyone in the country would automatically receive a monthly income payment from the government to cover basic living expenses. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes paying for this idea through a tax on the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the United States.
To encourage more fairness in education, several Democratic candidates are pushing for free college or student loan forgiveness of graduates. They argue that the explosion of tuition costs and student loan balances is holding back a generation of college graduates and will constrain their ability to succeed in the future.
Trump has made immigration reform one of his top priorities heading into the 2020 election. He argues that the large influx of immigrants from South America is straining our country’s resources and is unmanageable. His signature issue of building a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico is coupled with other changes to pull back on the number of people allowed to immigrate, both illegally and legally. He has also pressured Mexico and other countries to take more proactive actions to prevent people from migrating to the United States. Democrats running for president oppose the southern border wall and want to prevent federal funding for its construction.
Another priority of the Trump administration has been renegotiating trade deals with other countries. Trump argues that foreign countries have taken advantage of the U.S. for many years and we must take bold actions to reverse this trend. His preferred tool is tariffs on foreign imports to force other countries to the negotiation table. The Trump White House has imposed or threatened tariffs against several countries in the last year, including China, Mexico and India.
The interesting thing about the Trump trade policy is that most opposition is coming from Republicans in Congress rather than Democrats. Conservatives have traditionally supported free trade and opposed actions that restrict the flow of goods and services between countries.
The 2020 presidential election cycle presents a unique opportunity to see what issues will dominate national debates in the next several years. While some of these ideas have little chance of success, they provide the foundation for political parties and candidates around the country to build their policy agendas. We will continue to see these ideas develop throughout the next year as the presidential race heats up.
Robert Spendlove is Economic and Public Policy Officer for Zions Bank and can be reached via email at Robert.Spendlove@zionsbank.com. Additional economic insights -— including state and national economic trends highlighting indicators such as employment, demographics, housing, and more — can be found online at www.zionsbank.com/economy.