In laying down markers for this week’s debates, Democratic presidential hopefuls sometimes seemed to be playing a form of an old radio quiz show called “Can You Top This?” as they scrambled to outdo one another with elaborate plans for fixing national problems.

But Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” may be a more realistic characterization for their many proposals.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, seeking to expand her persistent 1% support, unveiled an elaborate climate change plan totaling $10 trillion in public and private spending, including a fixed carbon price and a tax on fossil fuel production.

Carl Leubsdorf

Carl Leubsdorf

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, in danger of dropping into also-ran status after recent polling and fundraising declines, proposed revamping federal school programs to shrink funding disparities between white and nonwhite majority districts.

Front-runner Joe Biden, seeking to surmount criticism of his 1990s hardline anti-crime bill, outlined an array of criminal justice proposals aimed at coping with the disproportionate jailing of people of color.

Their intent was to give voters some sense of their priorities, though they have tended to illustrate the extent to which they generally agree.

By contrast, the two debates on CNN produced conflicts on issues like immigration and health care, including the contrast between the Medicare for All approach championed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; plans by Biden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and several others to build on Obamacare, rather than displace it; and Sen. Kamala Harris’ attempt to split the difference.

Beyond the specifics, they revealed an underlying philosophical gap between pleas by Klobuchar, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and several others for realism and those by Warren for “big structural changes” and Sanders “to transform the country.”

But as the moderates pointed out, the latter may be giving the overall debate an air of unreality with proposals more appealing to the Democratic primary electorate than the general election voters and suggestions the next president will have far more leeway than is likely to institute sweeping programmatic changes. That’s also true of some of the more sweeping proposals that other candidates made on the issues on which they agree.

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Even if a Democrat defeats President Donald Trump, the political situation in 2021 is unlikely to be ripe for sweeping changes.

The next president’s initial priorities will almost certainly be to restore a proper presidential tone and undo as many damaging Trump actions as possible. That includes his international moves like abandoning the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement and squabbling with allies, and the domestic ones like reducing federal scrutiny from environmental and civil rights laws and regulations.

Three principal reasons make more sweeping steps unlikely.

First, even if the Democrats add a narrow Senate majority to control of the House, passing major legislation will be difficult. And the odds are still that Republicans will keep the Senate.

Second, Trump has used his executive powers to dramatically weaken a half-century of bipartisan efforts to regulate private industry and protect the civil and other rights of millions of Americans. The next president will have to devote substantial time and effort to fixing this.

Third, the next president will inherit a government where the ability to enact costly initiatives is severely constrained. That’s due to the persistent failure of both Democratic and Republican administrations, along with congressional majorities of both parties, to get a handle on federal spending and the burgeoning federal debt. Ironically, the last two GOP administrations made less effort to curb the deficit than the last two Democratic ones.

The current bipartisan funding measure, passed by the House and headed for Senate approval, exemplifies the problem. To pass the House, it added funds for domestic discretionary programs, and to secure Trump’s backing, it did the same for the military, in the process scrapping the last serious congressional effort to restrain spending. Along with the impact on prospective federal revenue from the 2017 GOP-passed tax cut, it ensures Trump’s tenure will end with a rising annual deficit, throwing the problem into the lap of his successor.

More importantly for the long run, it does nothing to curb the most important areas for getting a long-term handle on the federal fiscal situation, the so-called entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, where built-in requirements ensure continued increased spending, despite their increasingly shaky financial footing.

The next administration may need to face the fact that both Social Security and Medicare are on the verge of having to pay out more than they take in, meaning that, without significant reforms, Congress will have to use funds from an already constrained budget to pay legally required benefits.

Given that, and the prospect of continued partisan divisions in Congress, it is simply unrealistic to expect any new Democratic administration to undertake costly new programs. That’s something to keep in mind as the candidates continue to roll out policy plans and call, as Sanders has, for “a political revolution.”

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.


(21) comments


Obama care has little support from those who lost their insurance plans because of Obama care, another 180 million who are presently on employer based plans do not like it at all. The people who support it of course are those that do not pay for it. Just look at the premiums and the high deductibles of Obama care, they are ridiculously high and unless you got it free, you couldn’t afford to use it. That’s what happened and why it was never popular. Forcing people to pay if they didn’t want it was a bad idea and the mandate is unconstitutional, how is that a plan. The whole idea was based on lies and misrepresentations and they knew it. This is what you accuse Trump of doing, how can you support something like this. I guess the end justices the means, only for Democrats, right.


Perhaps, new2, you could provide the rest of us with a report on the number of people who lost their private insurance plans because of the Affordable Healthcare Act -- Obamacare? As I recall you were complaining bitterly that it cost you money, apparently because you lost your position, whatever it was, and had to take an early retirement before you qualified for Medicare. You should have consulted with D, who could have life-coached you into only making good decisions. About 50 percent of Americans now support Obamacare, less than 40 percent oppose it. How does that square with it never being popular, new2? Even more people want it preserved and improved, which would have happened years ago had it not been for Moscow Mitch McConnell. As an old HR man, you must know how company-sponsored healthcare plans worked, where the premiums paid young and the healthy are crucial to funding the plans to take care of older policy holders. Should private insurance be banned from charging the younger cohorts because they use so little of the money they are paying into the plan? Tell us more about that, new2.


new2? Please educate us. Don't ignore my 5:59pm post.

random annoying bozo

isn't 'medicare for all' a repeal of barrycare? I thought democrats loved barrycare, and said it shouldn't be repealed? and replaced? trying to keep up with the ever changing minds of lefties is hard work.... who wouldn't think doing away with the private insurance of 180 million people, and abolishing medicare as we know it now isn't a good idea? am I right lefties??


bozos are usually hopelessly confused by reality, bozo, and you proved it once again. No, Medicare for all is not Obamacare. Obamacare is not a universal healthcare plan, Medicare for all is. Obamacare, more correctly The Affordable Healthcare Act, is a hybrid of public/private healthcare plans, but it also had some key universal provisions that completely won over the American public and taxpayers, like the provisions on not allowing private healthcare plans to deny people coverage for preexisting conditions. The insurance companies and Mitch McConnell at first did a great job of ginning up popular opposition to Obamacare, but, as Nancy Pelosi once famously suggested, once people saw what is in the act, they would love it. And they did. When McConnell and Trump tried to kill Obamacare head-on, the American public rose up and said "no". Now Trump and McConnell are trying to kill it through the backdoor, thinking nobody will notice. I hope the continue to try. It will, if the Democrats finally figure out what the 2020 elections is actually about, assure that Trump will go down in defeat, and possibly McConnell, too, now that McConnell's links to Russia are emerging. You are right, alright, bozo. Radically right and entirely wrong, as bozos generally are.

random annoying bozo

i'll sum it up quickly....'medicare for all' is a repeal and replacement of barrycare, along with a repeal and replacement of all private health insurance, along with

all existing government heath insurance programs.... it's a race to the bottom of health insurance in this country.


Well, duh, bozo! Of course if we installed Medicare For All it would replace Obamacare and private health insurance plans. Did it take you a long time to figure that out? Will it happen? I think eventually it will, because it has worked in every other advanced industrial nation in the world for more than half a century, providing healthcare to all citizens at half the cost of what we pay in this country, getting far better health outcomes for people than Americans get. But it will be a gradual process, because there are too any bozos making bad choices in the voting booth.


No I don’t always do what the majority does but I dammm sure will look into why I may disagree. I certainly would not disguise my views to get anyone elected.The pretense of saying you support someone’s views when you really just don’t want others to see how foolish you really are. You should try being honest, this deception is pretty transparent, most folks on these posts know you support the far left, the squad I guess they call them and their followers. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, if your out there, your out there. The vast majority of America knows these are goofy ideas and have no chance of survival but we do like to know who the nuts are in the asylum.


Well, new2, why would anybody believe otherwise about you not disguising your views after seeing the persona you present on these boards. You are the proverbial t*rd in the punchbowl, the I-know-by-God-what-is-wrong-with-you guy who cannot help himself from slipping on every cow pie in the field. Everybody marches to the beat of different drummers, but the beat you follow is the one that Americans quit marching to more than 100 years ago.

The whole model of our government was founded on the premise that our form of democracy is a process, a continuing evolution of laws and regulations that address the realities of changing times and social dynamics. Nothing changes overnight in the normal course of human events. Ours is a system that works by fits and starts, doing what changes that are politically possible, and going from there. Do we need healthcare for all? Yes. Can we change it into a universal healthcare system overnight? I don't think so. But let's get the change done that gets everybody under some sort of coverage. That is not only possible, it is going to happen in the next ten years, but if it is a hybrid system that allows tens of millions to keep their corporate private insurance, so be it. Is that a dark secret? Only in your strange mind.


Their ideas are sooooo far out there it’s like watching a cartoon. There’s not enough space to discuss how unrealistic the ideas are. Every time they speak they sound so ridiculous they lose more supporters.


I think Mr. Leubsdorf is right. While I agree with much of the agenda of the left wing of the Democrats, I know that the vast, moderate middle of the American voting public is not there. So what do we want, to vote for those whose agenda we most agree with and watch Trump win, or to vote for somebody whose agenda is going in the right direction for us and can win, ridding us of the scum that Trump and his cohorts have coated our White House and our government in?


Why are you not there because the vast majority are not there. So what I here you admitting is these are radicals and their ideas you support but are too cowardly to vote for them. The very next sentence you say the moderates are going in the right direction, what you are really admitting is you are really one of the loons and will put on the disguise to ultimately get these loons in power. This is nothing knew for the left, they just can not be truthful because they know being truthful don’t win elections for the left. Trump said exactly was he was going to do and he did it, you may prefer to side with the loons but you won’t because you know it makes you look like fool. This is typical and directly out of Saul Alinsky’s playbook, never let them know how subversive the left can be.


Do you always do what you think the majority is doing, new2? Is that how you live your life? Do you just plug into the news source that the majority of arch conservatives take their misinformation from and decide, yep, that is how I feel about everything. I see your ally, D, is on here agreeing with me because, I guess, he has literally or figuratively read 5,000 books about WWII. He knew, I guess, from his deep readings that Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew the U.S. had to get into that war from the time it broke out in 1939, but he also knew he did not have the majority of Americans on his side early on, so he waited until public opinion caught up with his opinion.

Consider Abraham Lincoln, who "was very conscious not to move too far ahead of public opinion. One Lincoln biographer, Lord Charnwood, wrote of Lincoln’s evolving opposition to slavery as represented in his 1852 eulogy for Henry Clay that 'we can be quite sure that the moderate and subtle but intensely firm opinion with which a little later Lincoln returned to political strife was the product of long and deep and anxious thought during the years from 1849 to 1854. On the surface it did not go far beyond the condemnation of slavery and acceptance of the Constitution which had guided him earlier, nor did it seem to differ from the wide-spread public opinion which in 1854 created a new party; but there was this difference that Lincoln had by then looked at the matter in all its bearings, and prepared his mind for all eventualities. We shall find, and need not be surprised to find, that he who now hung back a little, and who later moved when public opinion moved, later still continued to move when public opinion had receded.'

I don't find Elizabeth Warren too radical. I find her and Bernie Sanders and, sadly, Kamala Harris, whom I would love to see squash Trump on a debate stage, to be, like Hillary, too rashly oblivious to the tenor of the times. I like what they like, but it is not possible at this time. What is important right now is to stop the destruction and the moral corruption that Trump has raining down on our nation. And it is to not just salvage what is left of the Affordable Care Act, but to improve it and expand it, and to restore the damage Trump has done to our standing internationally while repairing the destruction he has wrought on all levels of our government. Do the possible now, and what seems impossible now will be closer to reality in the future. Am I being too dishonest for you? The people who use Saul Alinsky's political philosophy most successfully these days are the radical rightists, dear boy. Is that gnu information for your pitifully empty bank of knowledge, knew2?

Rick Czeczok

And yet another book no one reads.


Well, Ricky, it is pretty evident that you don't read books or anything else that is longer than a tweet. That is why you cannot help but confirm yourself as the town fool daily on these boards.


All of these candidates you mentioned want to get rid of employer based insurance, near 180 million people are covered by these plans. The latest poll says near 80% of these folks do not want to give up these plans for what they expect to be an inferior government plan and. They have good reason to be suspicious, look how the government has ruined Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all are broke. Companies are concerned about attracting and keeping good employees and it incentifies them to enhance the health care plans they offer, both are winners, the company and the employee. You think for one minute these employees are going to give up these attractive plans that they have negotiated for, in the majority of cases gave up wages to get for their families, I think not. After years of negotiating contracts and benefits, it ain’t going to happen. Saul was a radical guru for the left, you know that. Like ai mentioned before, you are willing to disguise, deceive, whatever it takes to get these loons across the finish line. You support the far left and to not sound like a loon you preach being just a left.


Are you also beset with deafness in your deteriorating dotage, new2? I said from the start that I thought some form of Medicare for all plan that would take away the private plans from people who want to keep their private plans was impossible, a no-go plan. I said the candidates who are touting an immediate switch from private plans to a single payer plan are tone deaf at the least, and advocating doing this will insure the reelection of Donald Trump. You ask if I think for one minute? I know a minute is an eternity for you when it comes to thinking. I generally try to think things through more carefully. If a Democrat wins and Obamacare is improved and expanded, by the way, I don't think it will necessarily be employees on corporate plans who will be inclined to to leave their plans for a government one, it will be the corporations themselves, eager to shed the responsibility of providing insurance plans. Will that rate as "sneaky" to you, a self-described former crack HR man for a Fortune 300 company?


Certainly a demented assessment, by a certified demented geezer, suffering from late stage dementia. It is funny to read such false statements from a crazed individual. Hey old man !!! get your mematine, like our Great Aunt had. It helped her greatly and she was 86. If you can"t obtain it try some Fentanyl...I bet you"ll like it. Meanwhile stay off social media until you deal with your affliction. Please.


This is a sensible assessment.


Thank you for coming to my defense, D. I thought I was being pretty sensible, too.

Rick Czeczok

Jonny , Jonny, Jonny. He just really needs to stop posting. Jonny boy, get some help please. No one knows what you stand for. much less mean, with your senseless rants. Up all hours of the day and night, your rants, and now your dangerous threats. Go away. Not even physicks (spelling) can help you on this one.

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