Former congressman John Delaney (D-Md.) is running for president, pledging to enact a new national service for all young Americans, a “national strategy” to prepare for the impact of artificial intelligence on the labor market and a carbon tax among other measures to fight climate change.
He is also vowing large but unspecified cuts to the federal debt, a new national health program for everyone younger than 65, and reentering the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal proposed by President Barack Obama but later abandoned by President Trump and congressional Democrats.
Delaney, who has a far lower national profile that greatly complicates his chance to win or even be competitive in the Democratic presidential primary, is simultaneously running on proposed structural changes to American governance — vowing to push bipartisan legislation at the beginning of his term only, for instance, and to, as president, start regularly showing up on the floor of the House of Representatives to debate lawmakers, as the prime minister does in the British Parliament.
Delaney has also resisted calls to support policy ideas proposed by the liberal wing of the party, such as a Medicare-for-all system and free college tuition. But his policy platform backs large expansions of the welfare state that congressional Republicans would almost surely oppose, including extending prekindergarten to all children and expanding tax credits for low-income families. It is hard to imagine how Delaney would achieve his deficit targets, given that he has also not called for cuts to Social Security, Medicare or the military.
“This is a guy that likes to deal in the concrete world of problem solving,” said Will Marshall, founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, a center-left think tank, who frequently criticizes the party from the right.
But left-leaning critics charged that Delaney, a former businessman, was not proposing policies big enough to stem the flattening of workers’ wages and spiraling income inequality, two key goals of the Democratic Party.
“It’s remarkable that John Delaney’s corporate-friendly centrism would have been fairly mainstream in the Democratic Party just 15 years ago,” said Waleed Shahid, spokesman for Justice Democrats, a group that seeks to run challengers from the left in Democratic primary contests. "Now his ideology is out-of-touch with where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party: a progressive populist movement calling for government-driven redistribution, racial justice and taking on an entrenched oligarchy.”
Here’s a look at some of the policy proposals that Delaney hopes will get him to the White House.
Dramatically expand AmeriCorps through a national service program. Delaney said a top priority of his campaign is proposing a national service program for young Americans, in which people just graduating from high school can apply to work on a national project such as improving local infrastructure, retrofitting buildings and building parks.
The program would be modeled after AmeriCorps, under which approximately 75,000 Americans annually are placed in positions at nonprofits and public agencies to advance some societal goal. Delaney’s plan would aim to enroll at least 5 percent of all graduating high school students — or about 200,000 people — in the first year of the program.
Young Americans in the new national service program would work with private companies and labor groups as well as nonprofits and community organizations, Delaney said. The workers’ pay would vary depending on the cost of living in the region where they work.
Trump has proposed in his budget eliminating AmeriCorps and several other national service programs. AmeriCorps has been criticized as offering compensation so low to idealistic young Americans — often as little as $250 per week — that many apply for food stamps and other public benefits programs, according to the Nation.
Plan for artificial intelligence. A 2017 study from the consulting firm McKinsey found that automation could force as many as 70 million U.S. workers to find another way to earn money, with demand for American workers dropping by 20 percent.
Delaney, who formed a bipartisan caucus on artificial intelligence while in Congress, said that preparing for this displacement would be a top priority of his administration. He also stressed that artificial intelligence poses a cybersecurity risk, as well as new policy and regulatory questions.
The plan is, for now, thin on specific details about how the federal government should respond to those threats.
Big, unspecified cuts to the federal deficit. Unlike many of his Democratic primary rivals, Delaney has vowed to dramatically cut the federal deficit if elected president. He has even adopted a specific pledge — to shrink America’s annual federal deficit below 2 percent of gross domestic product to put the United States "on a sound fiscal trajectory.”
That’s easier said than done. Currently, the federal deficit is about $800 billion, or roughly 4.2 percent of GDP, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Getting that number under 2 percent would require, rounding generously, raising an additional $400 billion in annual taxes. The 2017 Republican tax, by way of comparison, costs about $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
Delaney said he is not aiming to immediately achieve the budget target, and vowed not to cut Social Security or Medicare but try to reduce long-run health-care costs.
“You wouldn’t get there right away. It’s a long-term target of deficits of 2 percent of GDP,” Delaney said in an interview. “We’re not going to make any cuts to get there — we’ll mostly focus on controlling the growth of health-care expenditures."
He did not specify how he would achieve this tremendously difficult goal but has cited the need to raise the corporate tax rate, which was cut from 35 percent to 21 percent under the 2017 GOP tax law.
New national health program. Delaney has a plan for universal health care under which every American younger than 65 would be enrolled in a new public plan, his campaign said in an email. It would not affect people older than 65 and would be paid for in part by ending the large tax break for employer-sponsored health benefits, according to Vox.
Delaney’s plan would also continue to allow Americans to buy private plans. He told Vox that the new public plan for everyone younger than 65 would provide the same minimum coverage as mandated under the Affordable Care Act. His plan would not affect Medicare as it currently exists.
That stops short of what much of the rest of the Democratic field has called for: a move to Medicare-for-all, or a single-payer system in which the government gives health insurance to every American with free medical, dental and vision care. In an interview, Delaney expressed concern that Medicare-for-all could diminish the quality of care and hurt providers by cutting reimbursement rates for insurance. He said his plan would not offer benefits as generous as those in the plan by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in part to save costs.
Revive TPP trade deal. Democrats and labor unions helped in 2016 to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal proposed by Obama that would have created a trade pact between the United States and 11 other countries, including Japan, Vietnam and Australia, aimed in part at forming a bloc to counter China’s rise in the region.
The TPP was heavily criticized by Trump, and most Democrats, especially those running for president, have broken away from it as offering too many concessions to large corporations. But Delaney says that the deal was a “missed opportunity” for America and that he would revive it on his first day in office, despite opposition from union groups.
Structural reforms to U.S. governance. Perhaps Delaney’s most idiosyncratic idea is a proposal to “debate Congress regularly,” much as the prime minister in the United Kingdom must answer direct questions from parliament.
Under Delaney’s proposal, the U.S. president would have to go to the U.S. House of Representatives on a quarterly basis. In Delaney’s vision, the debate would be aired on national television and last three consecutive hours.
“Americans are having a hard time getting the truth from their elected officials. One way to solve that would be with old-fashioned, town hall-type debates where people have to go back and forth on their views and defend what they believe,” Delaney said in an interview. “No better way to do that than in front of the American people.”
Delaney has also said he would prioritize signing bipartisan legislation through his first 100 days in office, pointing as an example to a plan co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to improve the Affordable Care Act’s exchange markets.