On the Issues 2016: Social Services

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By JOHN MCCULLOUGH and BEN MOORE

As the general election nears, The Observer will be running a series of articles on political issues that interest students. In our coverage, we will analyze each of the four presidential candidates’ (Clinton, Johnson, Stein and Trump) stated platforms on these issues and examine how they compare to one another. This feature will cover the plans that each candidate has for various social programs. If you would like a particular issue to be covered or want to cover an issue yourself, please reach out to us at [email protected]

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Donald Trump, Republican Party

Trump believes that all of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be repealed and has promised to do so on his first day in office. His plans for reforming the system include allowing “individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns…and “[removing] barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products,” especially those that come from abroad.

It is unreasonable to start from scratch again. A more efficient strategy would be to try to address the individual flaws of the ACA as Congress is unlikely to approve a brand new system after just shutting one down.

In his 2011 book, “Time To Get Tough,” Trump states, “The secret to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act’s success was that it tied welfare to work.” He further notes that “the 1996 Welfare Reform Act only dealt with one program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC),” and that he wishes to extend this to “the other seventy-six welfare programs.”

Trump also believes that the food stamps program is an area of concern. Recently, in his speech at the Republican convention, he quoted a count of 43.6 million people still on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which Politifact verified. Though this is a significant number, it has been trending downward under Obama’s administration.

On Social Security, Trump said in his 2011 book that “It’s not unreasonable for people who paid into a system for decades to expect to get their money’s worth–that’s not an “entitlement,” that’s honoring a deal.” According to CNN, he reaffirmed this view this year, stating “I’m not going to cut it…I’m not going to do all of the things that [Republicans] want to do.”

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Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party

On the Affordable Care Act, Stein said in a 2012 interview that “It is not a solution-it did extend care to some people who didn’t have it, but kind of at the cost of working families. The costs are not fairly distributed; the mandate is extremely unfair; the system is entirely unsustainable, and it is not working.” She instead proposes a “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program.

Since she is from Massachusetts, a state with a universal health care system, she certainly has credentials to reject the similarly-minded federal system, though the political climate will likely not be condusive to such reform.

On her website she describes her top-level plan to “Strengthen rather than cut Medicare and Social Security [and] remove the cap on social security taxes above a certain level of income,” though no specific details are given as to how she would go ensure these programs continue.

Though she does not refer to SNAP directly on her campaign website, she does advocate to “Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.” Earlier this year, Stein referenced that “up to a million more Americans will be thrown off food stamps (SNAP) this year, unbelievably, because they can’t find work.”

Stein advocates for the creation of “living-wage jobs for every American,” while the guarantee that “the unemployed would have an enforceable right to make government provide work” for them in the public sector.

While she is quick to denounce the cost of the existing programs, she does not give much financial detail on how the government would fund all of these programs.

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Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party

The Johnson/Weld campaign has very few  specifics on their website regarding their plan for spending on social services. However, said website does have numerous allusions to the general philosophy of the candidates on the matter.  One of these is their insistence on a balanced budget, which they demand in no uncertain terms, “no excuses. No games. A REAL balanced budget.”

Furthermore, they assert that “the idea that we can somehow balance the federal budget without cutting military spending and reforming entitlements is fantasy.” This suggests that current federal spending on social services must be reduced further before any of Johnson’s fiscal goals can be achieved. This fits in with the overall Libertarian emphasis on rugged individualism, and its customary insistence on fiscal conservatism.

Looking at the official 2016  platform of the Libertarian Party, the picture becomes even clearer.  One major goal of the party is to “phase out the current government-sponsored Social Security system and transition to a private voluntary system.” While Gary Johnson has not officially come out in favor of this privatization plan, it is troubling that this is from the official platform of his party, and he has personally voiced support for an increase in the retirement age to 72.

The idea of eliminating the most successful social program in American history and relegating the services it provides to the market is not only callous and ill-advised, but downright dangerous. According to The Century Foundation,  “Although the average monthly payment to those individuals is a modest $895, Social Security constitutes more than half of the incomes of nearly two-thirds of retired Americans.” This is a drastic reform that cannot be taken lightly. Privatizing social security would wrest a vital social need from the hands of the public sector, and cast it into the unstable waters of the markets.

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Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party

Clinton vows on her website to “defend social security against Republican attacks” and states that “social security isn’t just a program-it’s a promise.” On the topic of social security, she also asserts that she will, “fight any attempts to gamble seniors’ retirement security on the stock market through privatization” and “expand Social Security for those who need it most and who are treated unfairly by the current system.” She intends to fund this expansion through an increase in the amount paid toward social security by those in the highest income brackets.

Other social programs are discussed in her platform, including her intention to “guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.” This proposal would be funded by increased taxes on the highest income brackets.

Her position is practical to the extent that the United States is one of the few nations in the developed world that does not guarantee its workers paid leave.

Clinton’s purported defense of social security against privatization efforts is laudable, though it is unclear how closely she will stick to these positions given her past record. While her expressed dedication to social welfare spending is encouraging to those who wish for spending on these services to be maintained, but her past positions on the issue might give pause to pro-welfare voters.

One concerning aspect from Clinton’s past that contrasts with her current rhetoric is her previous support for “Welfare reform” legislation, which introduced roadblocks to impoverished families trying to get aid, during her husband’s administration. She recently gave the justification in an interview with WNYC that obtaining change in the  political environment of the time required such a position, in line with her persona as a “progressive who gets things done.”