In his new book, “The Land of Flickering Lights,” Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado geeks out on some economic charts. They show changes in wealth and income distribution in the United States during the last several decades, and tell a familiar story: the rich are getting richer, while the rest are struggling to keep up.
“The depth of the problem is four decades of no economic mobility in America,” Bennet, who’s running for president, tells Yahoo Finance. “The American people look at that and they say, forget that. We're not going to accept that the American dream is dead for our kids.”
Bennet says he’s running in the crowded Democratic field because he “reached a breaking point” during the 35-day government shutdown earlier this year. “We’ve spent, since 2001, $5 trillion on tax cuts. Almost all the benefit has gone to the wealthiest people in America. We have spent $5.6 trillion fighting wars in the Middle East. Donald Trump says it's $7 trillion. That's $12 or $13 trillion that we might as well have lit on fire.”
Bennet would rescind some of the Republican tax cuts from 2017, and spend more on education and infrastructure. He’s a cosponsor of the American Family Act, which would put more money in the pockets of low- and middle-income families by expanding the child tax credit.
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Addressing health care
Several presidential candidates—including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker—support Medicare for all, the plan to move all Americans into a huge, government-run health care program. Bennet opposes that. “If we had no health care system today, I might be willing to consider Medicare for all,” he says. “But we've got somewhere between 150 and 170 million people that are insured at their employer. And many of those people like their insurance and don't want to give it up.”
Instead, Bennet supports a proposal called Medicare X, which would be a new public program offering Medicare-like coverage to people who don’t get affordable insurance through an employer. While it would be a separate program, Medicare X would be administered by the same agency that oversees Medicare. That would reduce administrative costs, while a large pool of enrollees would give the program purchasing power and help keep costs down.
Unlike Medicare for all, Medicare X wouldn’t be “free” for enrollees. They’d pay premiums, as with ordinary health insurance, that would be set at levels meant to cover the program’s costs. So there’d be no need for new taxes, as there would be with Medicare for all. Subsidies would be available for lower-income enrollees.
While Bennet grew up in Washington, D.C., he believes his experience outside of Washington differentiates him from some of the other Democratic candidates. He’s a Yale Law School graduate who moved to Denver when his wife got a job there with the Sierra Club. In Colorado, he spent several years working for billionaire investor Phil Anschutz. He met John Hickenlooper and joined his 2003 campaign for mayor of Denver. When Hickenlooper won, Bennet became his chief of staff, until Hickenlooper – who’s also running for president – appointed him superintendent of the Denver public school system in 2005.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet to the Senate in 2009, when Ken Salazar vacated the seat to serve as President Obama’s Interior Secretary. Bennet won reelection in 2010 and 2016.
“As somebody that used to be a school superintendent, the thing that drives me crazy is the quality of your education is aligned completely with what your parents’ income is,” Bennet says. “We can't accept it as normal.” And he’s got the charts to back that up.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman