Buttigieg Calls for Higher Wages and Lower Health Care Costs

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses supporters before participating in the Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Friday laid out an agenda for the American economy designed to boost the middle class through a higher minimum wage, tax credits, education assistance and investments in affordable housing and health care.

Buttigieg has witnessed the stress on the middle class first hand as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which in recent decades has seen a decline in its once-powerful industrial economy. The loss of those sorts of jobs throughout the economy, along with stagnant wages, has left working families unable to keep up with the rising cost of living.

“In my mom and dad’s generation, nine out of every 10 kids did better than their parents,” Buttigieg said in a description of his plan released Friday. “But for Americans of my generation, the odds are no better than a coin flip. Working family incomes have stagnated almost my entire life. Meanwhile, most of our economic growth goes to a smaller and smaller slice of the wealthiest Americans – a dangerous level of inequality that not only threatens our economic security but tears at the very fabric of our democracy and our society.”

Buttigieg said as president he would not measure the success of the U.S. economy by just the growth of the stock market or gross domestic product, but “by whether working and middle class families are succeeding,” and he would do that with public investments.

The mayor proposes reducing health care costs, including prescription drug prices, through his hybrid Medicare-for-all plan that would allow people to chose between Medicare or keep their existing private or employer-paid insurance. Creating a public option, he said, will force private insurers to be more competitive by cutting costs and providing better services.

Buttigieg also wants to raise incomes by increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminating the minimum wage exemption for workers who receive tips. And he would increase the earned-income tax credit, which reduces the tax burden for working Americans and, for those who qualify, provides income in the form of a refund. He would also increase salaries for teachers, domestic workers, and direct-care workers.

His economic plan calls for a $50 billion investment in workforce training and lifelong learning in fields such as health care, high tech and clean energy. In additon, he would invest $700 billion in affordable, universal early learning programs and free child care for families that qualify to enable parents to work.

Another goal of the plan is to reduce the cost of higher education by investing $500 billion to make college affordable for middle class and working families. Eighty percent of families earning below $100,000 would receive free tuition at public colleges. Tuition would be reduced for higher incomes on a sliding scale, and Buttigieg would increase grants for students at public colleges to allow students from low-income families to graduate debt-free.

In addition, the mayor aims to provide more affordable housing by building more units through existing federal housing-assistance programs and housing vouchers, and by offering down-payment assistance for home buyers. Buttigieg also proposes working with local communities to revitalize urban neighborhoods, upgrade public housing, and reform zoning laws to encourage construction of housing for working families.

The $2.1 trillion in new spending called for in Buttigieg’s economic agenda will be paid for by reforming capital gains taxation among top 1% and equalizing tax rates for capital gains and ordinary income, a campaign spokesman said in response to a question from Courthouse News Service.

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