The Cost of the Proposals in the December 19 Democratic Debate

December 24, 2015
Demian Brady
Democratic Debate Analysis

During the Democratic Presidential Debate on December 19, the three candidates on stage promoted proposals that could impact spending 41 times. Of these, 20 have verifiable cost estimates to increase outlays, one would be recorded in the budget as savings (though it is more akin to a tax), and 20 could have an impact on spending but the cost is indeterminate due to lack of specificity from the candidates.

Hillary Clinton

  • Clinton touted 15 proposals during the debate, 6 with verifiable estimates to increase spending by a $47.55 billion per year.
  • Her most expensive debate proposal is to provide “debt-free tuition plans, and free community college plans.” Her campaign states that Clinton’s education plan would cost $350 billion over ten years, or $35 billion annually.
  • Clinton was the only candidate with a proposal with a cost estimate to reduce outlays. However, her plan would require pharmaceutical manufacturers who participate in Medicare pay a higher “rebate” to the federal government. In the federal budget these “rebates” would be scored as offsetting receipts (negative spending) of $9.1 billion per year for the next five years. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that higher “rebates” could divert private investments from research and development of new products and that the cost of the rebates would likely be mitigated through higher prices for new drugs.
  • Clinton also called for a new “refundable” tax credit (which can be claimed even if a filer has zero income tax liability) to cover out-of-pocket health expenses. While a specific estimate is not available, her campaign website states, “This tax cut will be fully paid for by demanding rebates from drug manufacturers and asking the most fortunate to pay their fair share.” Based on that statement, NTUF assumes the cost would be at least much as the "rebate" payments.'

Martin O’Malley

  • O’Malley’s debate agenda included six proposals with verifiable costs of $80.4 billion per year, no verifiable spending reductions, and seven proposals whose costs are currently unknown.
  • His most expensive proposal is a plan for a “100 percent clean electric grid by 2050” which would include a cap-and-trade program to increase taxes and use the receipts to boost federal spending. A CBO analysis of related cap-and-trade legislation estimated that spending would increase by $286 billion (inflation adjusted) over five years.
  • His second most expensive proposal involves a plan to allow refinancing of student loans. Related legislation introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren would increase spending by a net of $58 billion over three years.
  • Proposals with indeterminate costs include a plan to boost Pell Grants and a “new agenda for America’s cities” to boost federal spending on transportation and housing.

Bernie Sanders

  • Sanders listed 8 proposals to increase spending by $1.769 trillion annually, had no verifiable spending reductions, and five additional proposals that could have an impact on spending but the estimates are indeterminate.
  • NTUF originally scored Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal based on an older CBO of a related single player plan adjusted for inflation at $824 billion per year. However, a Sanders’ staffer said that an updated cost cited in the Wall Street Journal of $15 trillion in new spending over ten years is “a fair estimate.”
  • Sanders also proposed a $1 trillion program to boost federal spending on infrastructure over the next five years, or $200 billion annually.

A detailed analysis of each proposal and cost estimate is available in a Google spreadsheet.

Demian Brady

Director of Research

Demian Brady is the Director of Research for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. His responsibilities include producing commentaries and studies on fiscal issues, as well as managing NTUF's BillTally program (which tracks the impact of legislation on the size of the federal budget), State of the Union analysis, and more. Demian's research has been cited in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times. In addition, he has written on a number of budget-related issues for both NTU and NTUF. Mr. Brady resided and worked in Columbus, Ohio before moving to Washington, DC in 1998. He earned an M.A. in Political Science from American University. He received a B.A. in Russian Area Studies from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. 

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