Don’t Abolish Ice
Take the debate over ICE. Most Americans believe the immigration enforcement system in this country needs reforming, as polls favoring the extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the recent outrage over the president brutally separating the children of illegal migrants from their parents demonstrate. But the slogan “abolish ICE” suggested that Democrats wanted to abolish not only the agency but also the deportation of any illegal immigrants—something that runs afoul of public support. A Harris-Harvard poll conducted in late June found the public against disbanding ICE by 69 to 31 percent. Democrats were opposed by 59 to 41 percent. When framed this boldly and not simply as reform, even Hispanics were split 50 to 50. The House Hispanic Caucus opposes abolition. If Democrats were hoping the slogan would be enthusiastically received by Latinos, they were wrong.
A better case can be made for expanding Medicare to cover those under age 65. Managing such a program would be extraordinarily complicated, but the federal government and states are already running a combination of Medicare and Medicaid that covers over a third of the population; the slogan Medicare for All is also increasingly popular among many Democrats—it helped Sanders in the 2016 primaries. But Medicare for All might not work as well in pale blue states like Colorado, where its supporters put a referendum on the ballot in 2016 that would have created a state single-payer system. Wary of higher taxes, Coloradoans defeated it 79 to 21 percent. It could prove even less popular in Midwestern states where white working-class voters are an even larger portion of the electorate—and have regularly opposed higher taxes and programs that require them (in their eyes) to subsidize the idle or incompetent poor. It’s not necessarily a commendable perception—it can be fed by racism as well as by the Protestant ethic—but any program that aspires to expand the welfare state has to take it into account.
Perhaps the most radical proposal backed by Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, Booker, and Gillibrand is the federal jobs guarantee. Crafted this year by economists William Darity Jr., Darrick Hamilton, and Mark Paul, it would “provide a job, at non-poverty wages, for all citizens above the age of 18 that sought one.” The authors estimate the cost at $543 billion a year, but that’s with 4.1 percent unemployment. During a recession, the cost could rise to $2 trillion, or roughly half the current federal budget, and lead to huge tax increases. The program also raises the feared specter of big government. The federal government is currently far from capable of creating 12 or 22 million jobs, as Josh Bivens from the Economic Policy Institute notes. The Labor Department, where the authors suggest placing the program, would have to become the size of the Pentagon during wartime. While polls have registered initial support for a guarantee of full employment, its support would plummet during a general election as voters were made to realize what it would cost in taxes and how it would transform the federal government into an unwieldy and potentially inefficient behemoth.
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