LANSING — Michigan would face big changes if Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders became president, from overhauls of health insurance to Great Lakes cleanup efforts and plans for electric cars.
A once-crowded Democratic field has narrowed in recent days, giving way to what largely is a two-person race in Michigan’s primary Tuesday between Biden, the former vice president, and Sanders, the Vermont senator. (Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race but isn’t expected to be a factor.)
Sanders promises a “revolution” with plans to replace private health insurance with a single-payer system, fight climate change with a “Green New Deal” and provide free college, an ambitious agenda that will require a series of tax hikes.
Biden offers reassurance and incremental change, proposing improvements to the Affordable Care Act, a less expensive but still expansive effort to fight climate change and a tax plan that would roll back recent cuts for higher earners.
Bridge Magazine has spent several weeks digging into policy proposals, parsing data and showing how a handful of key issues would impact Michigan.
Bridge is focused on the Democratic primary because, while President Trump is up for re-election, he faces token opposition in the primary. Our reporters also will examine Trump’s policies in the weeks and months before the Nov. 3 general election.
About 1 in 20 Michiganders lack health insurance and rising costs are a big concern. Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would extend health care coverage to more than 500,000 Michigan residents and end expensive costs that can make it unaffordable. But residents and businesses in Michigan would face significant tax hikes, and private insurance workers could lose their jobs. Biden wants to improve health care access by building on the Affordable Care Act rather than scrapping it.
Great Lakes, infrastructure and water
Michigan promises to be a key state in the general election, but neither Biden nor Sanders has proposed many specific plans about the Great Lakes. But both would spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure and drinking water issues that are crucial to Michigan. Biden proposes $1.3 trillion in infrastructure spending to double investments in clean drinking water systems and focus new spending on low-income communities struggling to replace lead pipes in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Sanders wants to institute new drinking water standards, implement $16.3 trillion in new spending to ensure 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, create clean energy jobs and end all fossil fuel use by 2050. He also has sponsored legislation that would provide up to $34.85 billion to help repair aging water systems across the country.
- Learn more: Dems have big PFAS plans, fewer for Great Lakes
- Read their plans: What Democratic presidential candidates’ plans mean for Michigan environment
Manufacturing and electric cars
Michigan’s top industry, automobiles, could face significant upheaval if either Biden or Sanders were elected. Both want all new cars built by 2030 to be electric. That would be mandatory under Sanders, who is promising
major spending on research and development, worker retraining programs charging stations and consumer subsidies. Biden wants to boost fuel economy standards and build 500,000 public charging stations around the country. Experts say full electrification by 2030 may be unrealistic given political realities, automaker production plans and current consumer purchasing preferences.
Average student debt has climbed to $32,000 for Michigan students. Biden’s focus is community college, pledging to cover two years of higher education for students and investing in teachers and buildings and erasing some debt in exchange for public service work. Sanders wants to cancel all existing student debt and use federal grants to cover tuition at all public post-secondary programs.
- Learn more: Dems’ higher-ed plans draw scrutiny in Michigan
- Read their plans: How Democratic presidential candidates want to change higher education
Michigan is home to 129,000 undocumented workers and under President Trump, the number of international students and refugees has dropped significantly. Biden would end family separations at the border, end construction of the wall on the southern border, reinstate the DREAM program and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Sanders would break up the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection and suspend deportations, among a host of other reforms.
Taxes and wealth
Democrats want to pay for their plans by taxing the rich. In Michigan, the income gap is real and growing, as the number of millionaires spiked nearly 60 percent from 2013 to 2017, and income growth since 1989 is largely limited to the top fifth of all households. Sanders wants to attack wealth inequality with a new annual tax on net worth over $32 million. Biden wants to reverse recent tax cuts for top earners and tax capital gains investment income at the same rate for those who make $1 million or more.
- Learn more: Michigan’s income gap is widening. Time for Democrats to soak the rich?
- Read their plans: How Democratic presidential candidates would raise taxes to pay for plans
Michigan is one of a few swing states that could decide the presidential election. Bridge’s 2020 Fact Guide is a 13-chapter primer on Michigan’s most important issues and the facts that frame them.