BY Danny Haiphong
In the wake of the Working Families Party (WFP) endorsement of Elizabeth Warren, it has become all too clear that the corporate wing of the Democratic Party is seeking to undermine Bernie Sanders through their elevation of the Massachusetts Senator.
The WFP came under scrutiny on social media from progressives and leftists who believed that the leaders of the organization participated in their own “super delegate” process to disempower the grassroots membership.
In 2016, the WFP members backed Bernie Sanders. This time around, the WFP refused to share who their members supported and whether their opinion differed from leadership. Spokespeople for the WFP have since been unable to voice an articulate reason why Warren is a more viable candidate for working people than Bernie Sanders.
This author does not endorse Bernie Sanders or any candidate in the Democratic Party for that matter. A new political formation run by and for working people is needed to truly transform the oligarch-controlled United States. But the WFP’s endorsement of Warren begs the question: what exactly is the difference between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? Why is the Democratic Party establishment much more comfortable with Warren than Sanders as the nominee? The answer goes beyond Warren’s whispers to the Democratic Party establishment or her pledge to take corporate “dark” money in the general election. This article focuses primarily on the fundamental differences between Sanders and Warren in the realm of domestic social welfare policy. The differences between the two front-runners for the nomination reflect the long debate around whether universal or means-tested social welfare policies are more apt in stabilizing the U.S. capitalist economy and improving the condition of workers.
Unlike Europe, where communist parties and the labor unions forced the state to provide universal healthcare and other social needs, the U.S. has always favored a means-tested approach to social welfare. Social Security and Medicare stand alone as the only universal social welfare policies that all workers have the right to obtaining regardless of their income. The rest of the U.S.’ social welfare system is comprised of policies that target specific segments of the impoverishment working class. Medicaid, for example, has different eligibility requirements depending on the state where the applicant lives. Means-tested policies demonstrate a commitment to withholding assistance from workers unless certain requirements are met. Those who fall outside of the strict eligibility guidelines for Food Stamps (SNAP), public housing, or Medicaid do not receive assistance.
Means-tested policies stigmatize poverty and the working class. They effectively divide the working class into “deserving” poor and “undeserving poor” categories. Workers who abide by unjust, racist laws and meet the income requirements can apply for marginally funded social programs. Those who do not meet arbitrary guidelines are restricted from access altogether. This breeds resentment between workers and helps fuel white supremacist dogma against subsections of the working class. In 1996, Bill Clinton recited the racist ‘welfare queen” trope by replacing ADFC with TANF, a block grant-funded program that significantly reduced welfare benefits, required families to search for work to keep their benefits, and barred families from receiving benefits permanently after five years, among other stipulations.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren stand on opposite sides of the means-tested and universal policy debate. Sanders advocates for an anti-austerity agenda that favors universal social welfare policies. Despite copying much of his platform, Warren remains firmly on the side of means-tested policy solutions. Take healthcare, for example. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All platform affirms his commitment to passing the Senate’s Medicare For All Act of 2019, which possesses a companion bill in the House. The bill would ensure full coverage for all medical services for the entire U.S. population after a four-year phase-in period. Elizabeth Warren does not have a specific Medicare for All plan. Her website focuses on her stance for Medicare for All rather than the specifics she would take to make universal health coverage happen. This is a far cry from her reputation as a “policy wonk” and leaves the door open for proposals that fall well short of universal coverage.
The gap between Sanders’ universal social welfare agenda and Warren’s means-tested agenda is even more clear in other areas of their respective platforms. In April, Warren released her student debt relief plan which proposed to forgive up to $50,000 worth of student debt for households making less than a combined $100,000 in annual income or seventy-five percent of the U.S. population. Sanders’ College for All Act (2019), introduced to Congress this June, goes a step further by proposing the cancellation of all 1.6 trillion dollars of student loan debt regardless of household income. Warren’s plan includes an arbitrary cut off for households making $250,000 in combined household income, thus leaving the door open for resentment and opposition to develop from this politically active and decidedly wealthy section of the electorate.
Warren and Sanders also differ in their approach to the housing crisis. Sanders’ proposed Housing for All plan invests trillions of dollars obtained from a wealth tax on the richest Americans to ensure every worker in the United States has a roof over their head. Warren’s plan, on the other hand, proposes a small tax on the 14 wealthiest families to go toward federal investment in affordable housing. Warren says she will use the $500 billion accumulated from the tax to leverage private dollars, which, according to her plan, gives taxpayers “more bang for their buck.” Leveraging private dollars sounds more like privatization with a progressive face than a benefit for workers. Furthermore, Warren fails to mention homelessness once in her plan while Sanders explicitly makes the end of homelessness a key section of his plan. Once again, Warren takes a means-tested approach to housing as opposed to the universal policy advocated by Sanders.
Perhaps the biggest separation between Sanders and Warren resides in their position on labor. Bernie Sanders receives most of his donations from Wal-Mart workers and other wage laborers in the working class. Warren’s biggest donor base resides in the highly educated segment of the population. Sanders focuses on strengthening the labor movement because his campaign understands that strong social movements are the only force capable of making changes that improve the condition of all workers. That the decline of labor unions directly correlates with the decline of wages and wealth for workers in the United States is proof of Sanders’ assertion.
Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Plan bolsters the power of the shrinking labor movement in the United States while Warren’s plan doesn’t mention the role of organized labor at all. The Workplace Democracy Plan would ensure workers can vote for a union through a majority card check and include other provisions such as the removal of restrictions on federal workers’ right to strike. Warren’s plan merely calls for a more “accountable capitalism.” Under her plan, large corporations would be held accountable for their crimes through the inclusion of workers on the board of directors and face tougher regulations over how their money is invested. Nowhere in her plan is the power and organization of working-class people themselves addressed beyond a seat in the board room. This leaves substantial room for employers to continue their systematic assault on unions without any of that accountability that Warren speaks so fondly about.
On domestic social welfare policy, Warren and Sanders are more different than they are similar. Warren may pander to Sanders’ political platform, but her policies reflect the long tradition of means-tested social welfare policy in the United States. Means-tested policies exclude significant portions of the population, strengthen class and racial prejudices, and allow corporations and banks to restrict public spending and privatize existing social welfare programs. Sanders has been subject to a DNC-led smear campaign because his major policies are universal in character and benefit the entire working class. Healthcare, housing, and education for all require major public investments that private corporations are unwilling to make. Warren has admitted that she is a capitalist to her bones. Sanders is a 21st century New Deal reformer. The DNC and the billionaire class would gladly compromise with Warren and work with her to ensure that her means-tested policies affect their pockets too deeply. Sanders’ policies raise the expectations of the masses and thus have the potential to inspire workers to think more deeply about their own disempowered condition in society. This makes Warren the perfect insurance policy for the DNC’s bid against Sanders and an enemy of every worker in the U.S. seeking relief from the austerity agenda that dominates in Washington.
This article was originally published in American Herald Tribune on September 24, 2019.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of UMMnews.