Sometimes it’s better not to have a plan. That would be the case for Sen. Elizabeth Warren who felt obligated to match the progressive’s ardor for Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan. She has made herself politically vulnerable when there was no need; she could have refrained and kept Mr. Sanders to her left. Now, her math is as questionable as his and her politics more so.
Mr. Sanders has preached this same sermon for eons. But at least he has acknowledged it would be impossible to fund a single-payer health care system without the middle class bearing part of the burden. Ms. Warren, trying to differentiate herself from Mr. Sanders, kept to her promise of finding a way to pay for the multi-trillion dollar effort without touching the middle class.
She also weakened herself politically. The numbers don’t work because they depend on factors that no one sees as reasonable. She assumes a much lower rate of growth in health care spending than is generally assumed. She assumes a reduction in spending on drugs that no one believes is realistic. She would mandate that employers keep spending what they are spending, but would send their checks into the federal government rather than insurance companies, pretending that employers would not try to lower their employee numbers accordingly. She raises the money necessary by repealing the Trump tax cuts, slapping a new seven percent charge on corporate profits. There would be a wealth tax, a new fee structure on banks, and on and on. On top of all that, everyone’s private insurance options would be cancelled.
Ms. Warren is a highly intelligent person, and her staff is undoubtedly staffed with top talent. It may be that the Warren campaign saw no option but to respond the way she has, bending to the ideologues of the far left. She’s showing strength in the polls, but still needs to put Mr. Sanders away if she is to have a chance to overcome Joe Biden.
She obviously believes she can’t get there without promising more than Mr. Sanders promises.
At this stage in the campaign, all things are calculated gambles. The gamble she’s made is that she can steal Mr. Sanders’ thunder by one-upping him on his signature issue, which is switching to a single-payer health care system.
What may happen is that the additional attention paid to the issue will hurt both their campaigns. The more attention that’s paid to the issue, the less appealing it becomes. Both Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren are proposing systems that are all upside, and no downside. It’s a system with all the benefits, and few of the costs. Mr. Sanders at least admits that some of the costs must be borne by the middle class, Ms. Warren insists her plan could be financed by the billionaires alone.
Not only is Ms. Warren’s plan complete fiction, it’s easy to pick apart politically. And that’s the worry for Democrats. Before the details of her plan were released it was assumed she was being coy in purposely being opaque. That advantage is gone. If she does prevail, it will be almost impossible to walk back her promises.
Presently, the Democrats hold a sizable advantage over Republicans when it comes to the issue of health care. But that support is also from about 30,000 feet up. The polls also show that the deeper people dig into the weeds, the less attractive they find the plans of both Mr. Sanders and now, Ms. Warren.
Perhaps now is the time Mr. Biden and Pete Buttigieg will seize the initiative and bring the party back to a defensible middle ground. Otherwise, it is almost unconscionable for the left wing of the party to make Medicare-for-all a litmus test for its nominee. It would be a gift to President Trump, someone to whom distortion is a fine art. That’s a dumb thing to do for people who are thought to be so smart.
by Emerson Lynn