This Thursday, 10 of the candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination will descend upon Houston for the third Democratic debate. The festivities in Texas will mark the first time that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) will take the stage alongside presumptive frontrunner Joe Biden, the former vice president. The two candidates represent the dueling sentiments of today’s Democratic Party: Is the best tack the one that may be more likely to defeat President Trump in 2020, as Biden has suggested, or does advocating for the progressive policies that have pushed the party leftward make a stronger, more inspiring candidate?
Warren has taken the latter approach — alongside close friend and fellow senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) — building her candidacy primarily on what she’s calling the “ultra-millionaire tax.” The conceit, as she explains it, is simple: America’s tax code is focused on income, but in order to be more just it should take into account family wealth as well. That’s why she’s proposing an annual 2% tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million, and a 3% tax on every dollar above $1 billion — a tax she says would affect only the top 0.1% percent of households.
Warren has indicated that her ultra-millionaire tax would fund some of her other high-dollar plans, and it’s been joked that the wonky senator has a “proposal for everything.” So, here’s what’s on deck if Elizabeth Warren wins the presidency, aside from a tax on the super-rich.
1. A sweeping approach to reducing gun violence
Where other candidates have focused on specific individual proposals, like re-upping the assault weapons ban and mandating background checks for every gun purchase, Warren has outlined a more holistic goal for gun violence: reducing overall gun deaths by 80 percent. That means focusing less specifically on the mass shootings that plague America more than any other developed nation in the world and instead considering all of the ways guns kill people, including domestic violence, homicide, and gun-related injuries that lead to death.
To that end, Warren’s gun control plan includes creating a federal licensing system — an idea first advanced by her presidential rival, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) — as well as raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 from 18, allotting $100 million annually for gun violence research, and increasing taxes on both guns and ammunition for manufacturers. She also wants to limit the number of weapons an individual can purchase and use executive action to “expand background checks, close loopholes in current gun laws, and target gun traffickers and licensed gun dealers who break the law,” per Vox.
While Warren has mentioned eliminating the filibuster to pass gun control legislation in the Senate, she has notably not closed the door to working across the aisle on the issue. The New York Times reported earlier this month that while some more moderate candidates, like Biden and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), have taken a hard-line approach to gun control, Warren has advocated for treating gun violence “as the public health emergency that it is” — and if making progress requires compromising with Republicans, “we need to do … what’s effective to bring down deaths.”
2. Improving internet access in rural areas
Using the moniker “A Public Option for the Internet,” Warren outlined a plan over the summer to expand internet access to rural areas at a cost of $85 billion. The proposal would also seek to restore net neutrality, an Obama-era rule prohibiting internet service providers from prioritizing some websites over others, which the FCC struck down in 2017.
The senator is proposing using the funds to entice broadband providers to serve more remote areas through the disbursal of grants. She would exclude for-profit corporations from eligibility, instead appealing to “electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, [and] counties,” Wired explains, and would create a federal Office of Broadband Access to manage the money.
Warren also wants to inject more competition into the telecom industry, including as part of her plan a push to hand control over utility poles to cities rather than to companies. She’d also put $5 billion of the $85 billion total specifically toward improving education and access to the internet for tribal nations. The overarching idea is that by offsetting the costs of building the fiber infrastructure, the government can encourage other entities to get in the game, thus breaking the stranglehold enjoyed by major players like Verizon and Comcast to lower costs while also expanding access overall.
3. Jay Inslee’s "clean energy" climate plan
To the victor go the spoils, and to the survivors go the good ideas. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had predicated his entire presidential campaign on the existential threat of climate change, and after he dropped out of the race in August, Warren moved to embrace his proposals to combat Earth’s impending demise. She even met with the governor in Seattle shortly after he exited the race, The New York Times reported, and in unrolling her climate plan she stated explicitly that “while [Inslee’s] presidential campaign may be over, his ideas should remain at the center of the agenda.”
So what are those ideas, exactly? Inslee was calling for the U.S. to achieve 100% clean energy usage in three major sectors — new cars, new construction, and electricity — by 2030, instituting climate standards for all new trade agreements, and pledging $3 trillion in federal funds to remake the American economy and its infrastructure with an eye toward sustainability, among other things.
Warren’s specific timeline is as follows: decarbonizing new buildings by 2028, new automobiles by 2030, and electricity by 2035. Her broader climate plan builds on her initial $2 trillion outline for America’s green future: $400 billion under the Green Apollo plan for clean energy research, which would additionally create middle-class jobs by mandating that all investments result in manufacturing that occurs in the U.S.; $1.5 trillion to help transition America to clean energy use by purchasing American-made products that are renewable and emission-free; and $100 billion to encourage the adoption of sustainable energy products around the world, dubbed the Green Marshall Plan. After Inslee dropped out, she pledged an additional $1 trillion over 10 years to “match [Inslee’s] commitment,” bringing the total cost to $3 trillion, which she says would be covered entirely by eliminating the Trump administration’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
4. Federal funding and Cabinet-level recognition for Native communities
Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry — including the dubious decision to release a DNA test confirming that fact last year — has dogged her political career. In August, she outright apologized to the Native American community for the “harm [she had] caused,” saying, “I have listened and I have learned a lot.”
The mea culpa came days after she released a long, detailed plan specifically aimed at protecting and promoting tribal interests. Among its tenets: a Cabinet-level office dedicated to Native American interests, via the head of a newly permanent White House Council on Native American Affairs; establishing guaranteed funding for tribal programs, rather than leaving Native interests subject to the congressional appropriations cycle; and revoking the permits for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.
Vox additionally notes Warren’s demand for an “Oliphant fix,” which refers to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that curtailed tribal governments’ authority to retain criminal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans on tribal lands. The senator’s proposal to enable tribal leaders to “fully prosecute crimes that take place” shows a willingness to address one of “several of the demands that Native American activists have had for some time,” Vox says. Also included in Warren’s plan is the creation of a federal database to track the ongoing disappearance of indigenous women — a crisis that has gone largely unreported.
5. Student debt forgiveness, free public college, and affordable child care
While the ultra-millionaire tax is Warren’s signature proposal, the singular fee promises to fund more than one of the candidate’s buzziest proposals. The tax is projected to earn $2.75 trillion over 10 years in tax revenue for the government, which economist John Bivens told Newsweek would actually come “really close to paying for [Warren’s] child care, free college, and debt forgiveness proposals.”
Let’s do the math. Warren’s plan for universal child care would move the government to partner with local entities to create a network of federally subsidized child care centers, whose cost would be determined on a sliding scale — including completely free to families whose income falls below a certain threshold (about $51,500 for a family of four) — and capped at a certain percentage of income otherwise. She would also implement quality standards for child care providers and raise care workers’ wages to mirror those of public school teachers. Overall, the plan would cost roughly $700 billion.
Meanwhile, the senator’s plans for student debt forgiveness and free public college are linked. To ease the student debt burden — which totals roughly $1.5 trillion across nearly 45 million Americans — Warren proposes cancelling $50,000 in debt entirely for any person with a household income less than $100,000, and proportional relief for those with household income between $100,000 and $250,000. (For people with household income above $250,000, there would be no debt relief.) Warren claims this scaled plan would result in nearly 95% of borrowers having at least some of their debt cancelled — and would cost the government about $640 billion.
She then proposes making all two- and four-year public colleges tuition-free “so that nothing like [the student debt crisis] ever happens again.” She would do this by setting aside $100 billion in additional funding for Pell Grants and $50 billion for a fund for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions specifically, to cover costs outside of tuition; tuition and fees, meanwhile, would be eliminated by the federal government partnering with states to shoulder the burden. The universal free public college program would cost the government roughly $600 billion.
All told, the three programs carry a bill just shy of $2 trillion — or almost $800 billion less than the estimated revenue from Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax. Of course, whether voters agree that the super-wealthy should be the ones to pay for these provisions for the entire country is another matter.
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