These turbulent days, when we know but can’t be certain, bring to mind a classically evocative movie quote: “Fate certainly weaves a twisted tapestry.”
I’ve sworn to be truthful with you, so I reveal that this wisdom comes from Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity. I watched it last night, my distracted mind confounded by a discombobulating election. How those young heroines could pilot a starship in such abbreviated swimming costumes, I cannot say. Space travel is still mystery; perhaps the vessels lack aircon… shameful, I know, but there are limits to what my heart and digestion can stand. Such trying times for the late-middle aged.
In December, the Electoral College will vote, Congress will certify their decision, and I can’t recall what happens next. I could grab the Constitution down from my shelf, consult the web, but – no, it’s too much. Brush off the popcorn crumbs and wake me when it’s over.
Meanwhile, assume the best or worst: Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States. Our first task is distinguishing between what he said during the campaign, the true contents of his administerial agenda, and what the fates, likely taking the form of a Republican Senate and a hopping mad populace (some, his supporters), will allow. Post-electoral periods are habitually difficult, but this one is flesh-creeping, spine-tingling. The old curse about interesting times… no kidding!
First, the taxes. Mr. Biden has a bedrock determination to raise taxes on the wealthiest – this much at least is in stone. His latest proposal defines ‘wealthy’ as those earning north of $400,000/year. The top tax rate would rise from today’s 37% to 39.6% (40% sounded too scary, I bet, so they lopped off 4/100th – feel better?) Advantageous rules regarding dividends and capital gains would be axed, and the wealthy will pony up Social Security payroll taxes. At the extreme, the richest – the top 0.1% – would face a 43% federal tax bill, according to sources.
Corporate taxes could rise from 21% to 28% – that’s what Biden has proposed. Companies moving their ops overseas would get whacked with a special levy, perhaps signaling a change in Democratic Party leanings. It’s hard to tell what the party believes, let alone where their opponents stand: these are times of stout conflict, shifting priorities and the need for careful alliance. Time will tell; expect surprises and shocks, with troubled slumbers guaranteed.
Given our head-swimming deficits, it makes sense for government to rake in a bit more of the green – they print it, they want it back, one supposes. Likely-elect Biden plans – there’s it is again, that word: undependable – to raise spending. Two trillion for clean power, one-point-five for healthcare. There’s also the little – read, titanic – issue of the next round of coronavirus stimulus. Another trillion or two? The CARES Act cost $2.2 trillion. How far can they afford to go?
No matter the cost, the deal’s nearly done, we understand. Citizens in both camps like stimulus – most individuals need or at least heartily desire the payments – so it looks an easy win, also a chance to show Democratic resolve. Expect a Biden presidency and most everyone in Congress to move swiftly on stimulus.
Traditionally, a country pays down deficits via taxes, less spending and economic growth – that latter is tops. Yet estimates – the cousins of plans for reliability – suggest Biden’s ideas would cut growth by a percentage point or two over the next decade. Upcoming months will yield harsh questions that demand answers; we expect ever-more fireworks.
Taxes, spending, healthcare, coronavirus – these issues subsume all else, it may seem. Not so, says Joe: there’s lots more on his agenda. Take this one: student loan debt. Democratic Senators Warren and Schumer want to tame the problem via an instant $50,000 cut in federal student loans for all holders. They believe it can be done via presidential fiat, with no need to legislate. The idea rides in tandem with pandemic relief and could quickly gain traction next year, its sponsors say. It sounds like an idea appealing to all voters, so look for the news flow to broaden.
Conceivably, President Trump could take up the challenge, if only to steal the Democrats’ thunder, and cancel some student debt. That seems unlikely, say Warren and Schumer, and perhaps it’s even a trap – skullduggery in the lame-duck months is hardly unprecedented. But never mind the Senate, for a minute, as Mr. Biden himself has a plan.
The frontrunner wants to quickly cancel $10,000 in student loans for everyone – perhaps 30% of holders could shake off their loan yoke completely. Biden also proposes granting free educations at public colleges to children from families earning less than $125,000/year. This is a dramatic proposal of wide appeal, but legislative changes are needed to enact it. The bottom line may determine the outcome – someone must pay, whatever the way – and public opinion should have a loud say, assuming the idea gains attention in an overcrowded field.
On Obamacare – formally, the Affordable Care Act – the Democrats seem ready to move. Biden wants a public option added to the ACA – that is, a federally administered healthcare system to provide no-premium care to the poorest citizens. The Medicare eligibility age would be cut from 65 to 60; tax credits would be extended for families to help them defray health insurance costs. Expect further proposals on ACA reform, with the tightest of scrutiny and political strife: public healthcare is contentious, and an expensive field of play.
Meanwhile, we await the Supreme Court’s decision on the ACA’s constitutionality, with early signs positive for Democrats, Biden and anyone following their lead on this matter of nationwide concern.
Biden has many more proposals and the evidence suggests we’ll be hearing them soon. As always, I hope for the best: a swing to the middle and unity that encompasses all. Despite my taste for poor movies, I hope you won’t call me a fantasist.