This presidential election, the first that most University of California, Santa Barbara students can participate in, promises to be more than merely a choice between two parties or two candidates; it is a choice between two futures, with the two major party candidates offering starkly different visions of America as it stands today and the America they would seek to create.
Disillusioned by a polarized environment where it seems Trump and Clinton supporters can only agree that they disagree on the very facts defining their world views, many prospective first-time student voters feel as if we are inheriting a hopeless, failing democracy no matter who we vote for.
However, students’ ambivalence towards the main party candidates causes them to overlook the most significant issues relating to their long-term livelihoods. There exists a divide, cleaved separation, not along party lines but between age groups, over the issues voters find most important. A Pew Research Center poll from July found that older voters say a number of issues — Supreme Court Appointments, Social Security, and Healthcare most significantly — are “very important” to their vote by margins of 29 percent, 21 percent, and 13 percent larger, respectively, than their younger compatriots.
UCSB students should be concerned as we near the election because those three topics will have bigger and longer-lasting impacts on our lives and the lives of everyone our age than they will on older generations. Most substantive discussion has been buried beneath Clinton’s renewed email scandal and Trump’s comments regarding women from 2005, but both candidates surprisingly have real stances on all three issues.
The Supreme Court
Gridlock within and between the legislative and executive branches has made the judicial branch, and thus the Supreme Court, the most powerful branch of government. Over the past decade of standstill in Congress and The White House the court has defined the Second Amendment, campaign finance, national healthcare, The Voting Rights Act, administrative law, and marriage. Meanwhile, Congress can barely pass a budget.
The Supreme Court itself became gridlocked in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Liberal-leaning and Conservative-leaning justices split the court 4-4. Republicans in Congress have vowed not to accept any Obama nominee, including current nominee moderate Merrick Garland. Supreme Court Justices remain on the court for a historical average of sixteen years, so whoever wins the presidency will likely decide the court’s political orientation for a generation.
Donald Trump has made the Supreme Court a centerpiece of his campaign, releasing a list of 21 potential nominees that consists of hardline conservatives who generally oppose hot-button conservative talking points such as abortion, gay marriage, and federal regulation, according to NPR. Clinton, more traditionally, released a statement saying Congress should respect President Obama’s nominee and declined to release her own shortlist. However, a list of prospective picks pulled together by The Hill names a number of center-left to far left candidates.
Social Security consists of two components: Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI). Payroll taxes from our paychecks will be funding these programs for our entire lives, with the promise that young, working people will fund our Social Security compensation when we’re the ones retiring.
The Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees expect the trust funds financing social security to run dry by 2034 as the American population ages and more individuals qualify for benefits, well before current healthy, college-aged individuals will be able to cash in. Under current conditions the board of trustees projects that “the annual cost of Social Security benefits expressed as a share of workers’ taxable earnings will grow from 14.1 percent in 2015 to roughly 16.6 percent in 2038,” with twenty-four percent of the federal budget already going to the program in 2015. We will either have to pay 2.5 percent more of our lifetime earnings to maintain the system as it currently works or face serious federal budget shortfalls. While 2.5 percent might seem trivial, over the lifetime of an average college graduate it amounts to tens of thousands of dollars — the program undeniably needs reform to make it sustainable in the long run.
Despite making nearly identical statements regarding the program, the candidates focus on different aspects. Clinton opposes privatizing of any form, reducing cost-of-living adjustments, raising the retirement age, or funding the program through raising middle class payroll taxes. She wants to increase benefits for widowed women and individuals out of the work force as caregivers for their children or ailing family members, closing the program’s budget shortfalls through higher taxes on the wealthy.
Trump worries more about alleged Disability Insurance fraud, although his proposals regarding the program do not relate to solving that problem; his comments instead revolve around giving individuals more control over their own portion of OASI by allowing them to invest it as they see fit along (as of now undisclosed) federal guidelines.
Medicare, Medicaid, The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace subsidies accounted for twenty-five percent of the federal budget in 2015. Medicare, which provides healthcare to the elderly and disabled, makes up about two thirds of that twenty-five percent and is financed through general revenue, payroll taxes similar to social security, and premiums paid by recipients. Medicaid and CHIP receive funding jointly from the states and the federal government. A combination of various taxes and general revenue funds the Affordable Care Act.
Such programs act like a subsidy flowing from the work force to the elderly, disabled, dependent (primarily children), and unhealthy, similar to social security in practice. Dismal budget projections from the Congressional Budget Office predict the total cost of these programs will nearly double over the next decade given the current budget trajectory.
Trump’s seven step plan to reform health care starts with a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act. From there his plan consists of a series of measures running the gamut of conservative policies such as allowing the sale of insurance across state lines — a practice currently heavily regulated between states — to increase competition and providing tax incentives on insurance premiums to decrease their cost to the individual. Counterintuitively, Trump believes the solution to rising pharmaceutical costs is providing cheap, alternative options, including foreign imports.
Clinton, on the other hand, promises to emphatically defend and expand the Affordable Care Act, including the creation of a government offered “public option” insurance plan to increase competition with insurers nationally. Her other well-detailed proposals revolve around reducing prescription drugs costs, largely by increasing competition through generic drug subsidies and decreasing patent lengths for new drugs, as well as creating an agency that would evaluate whether or not price hikes were reasonable. Much of the cost of Medicare and Medicaid derives from prescription drugs, so their projected increase is heavily dependent on rising prescription drugs costs.
Neither candidate necessarily has the solutions, but the most concerning problems they must confront are Supreme Court gridlock and impending Social Security and health care program budget crises, which most significantly affect the long-term livelihoods of current college students. Although such substantive issues have been drowned out in the cacophony of scandal, by educating themselves not just on the positions of our presidential candidates, but on the positions of candidates down the ballot, students will best be able to have an impact on their future through elections.