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For Democrats, a Platform Turnaround

Blogging Our Great Divide
July 07, 2016

by Josh Hoxie

In an era of seemingly endless political commentary, you could be excused for not digging into the 40 pages of less-than-breathless prose that make up the working draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform. But you’d actually be missing out.

This year’s platform, while far from perfect, abounds with bold progressive antidotes to inequality. We haven’t seen a major party platform this progressive since the Great Depression.

The opening of the platform’s tax section comes straight out the Bernie Sanders playbook: “At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, we believe the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations must pay their fair share in taxes.”

The platform goes on to list a multitude of loopholes that need closing, everything from tax breaks for hedge fund managers and the oil and gas industry to offshore tax shelters.

The new party plan also includes a surtax on multimillionaires and a commitment to restore a stiffer estate tax on grand fortune. In a nod to a groundbreaking 2015 New York Times exposé, the plan vows to shut down the “private tax system” that high-priced lawyers and money managers have fashioned to minimize the taxes rich people pay.

To help ensure Social Security’s long-term viability, the platform endorses lifting the current cap on earnings subject to payroll taxes. This cap has taxpayers making millions a year paying a far smaller share of their income in Social Security tax than Americans making $118,000.

Back in 1992, the year Bill Clinton first ran for President, the Democratic Party platform essentially echoed Republican complaints about “big government” and pledged to “tackle spending” and put “everything on the table” for budget cuts, including “entitlement programs,” the policy-wonk label for programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The 2016 platform — in stark contrast — calls on the nation to devote the higher revenues higher taxes on the rich will raise to opportunity building for all Americans, through initiatives like tuition-free higher education.

On Wall Street reform, as Institute for Policy Studies analyst Sarah Anderson points out, the new 2016 draft platform doesn’t pull any punches. The plan calls for “a financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading.”

The 2012 Democratic Party platform ignored the whole issue of taxing Wall Street, and the Obama administration has actively opposed European moves toward a tax on financial transactions.

The nation, the new 2016 platform goes on to note, needs a modern-day Glass-Steagal Act to break up and tame Wall Street’s biggest banks.

The new platform also acknowledges the stark reality of America’s racial wealth divide, for what may be the first time ever in major party platform. The platform includes no specific policy prescriptions here, but does commit the party to “close this racial wealth gap by eliminating systemic barriers to wealth accumulation for different racial groups and improving opportunities for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to build wealth.”

The new draft platform, unfortunately, comes up short on other fronts, particularly on issues around trade and climate. A full-throated opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership has not yet made it into the text, nor has support for a carbon tax.

The draft will remain provisional up until voting at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. That means delegates still have a chance to add these important provisions.

Read the full text here.

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