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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Warren’s Mistake on Single Payer

The Daily Escape:

Mount Shasta, CA – November 2019 photo by pkeller001

Wrongo wonders if Elizabeth Warren has made a big mistake in her policy for Medicare for All. She started out running to reform capitalism, but through the debate process, she’s evolved towards single payer health insurance as a main policy. Months ago, she was an increasingly skilled campaigner whose laundry list of policy proposals made her stand out from the pack. Now she’s for nationalizing health insurance, which doesn’t seem to be on brand.

Two of her main rivals, Biden and Buttigieg, essentially want to extend Obamacare while leaving the 170 million Americans covered by private insurance with their current plans. While on her left, her other main opponent, Bernie Sanders, also wants to nationalize health insurance.

The latest New York Times/Siena College poll of Iowa Democrats shows Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Biden bunched within a 5-point range. And while Warren leads, the poll found more sentiment among primary voters for improving the private health insurance system than for scrapping it in favor of single-payer.

Worse for Warren, she and Sanders are both sufficiently well-funded and popular that neither can easily emerge from Iowa or beyond as the candidate on the left. It’s similar on the moderate side: Neither Biden nor Buttigieg are going away after Iowa either.

Buttigieg is a gifted politician. He’s correctly discerned that the path to marginalizing Biden lies not in attacking him, but in confronting Warren on single payer, which he did in the last debate. He would rather that Sanders was the front-running lefty heading into Super Tuesday, than have to confront Warren.

A few more debates, and Mayor Pete may be the last standing moderate alternative to Warren and Sanders, assuming Bloomberg doesn’t get traction along the way.

Sanders is a much better candidate than he was in 2016. He’s making inroads among African-Americans and Hispanics. AOC, a very popular symbol of youth and progressivism, supports him. Sanders is doing well enough with young progressives to keep Warren from now moving closer to the center on single payer.

She went from cautious on single payer to all-in. First, she allowed that there were multiple paths to universal coverage. In an attempt to simplify during one of the debates, she said: “I’m with Bernie”, without having a firm plan.

When pressed by Biden and Buttigieg to specify how she would pay for her vague plan without raising taxes on the middle class, she dodged the question, saying that overall health insurance costs to the middle class would go down. She finally produced a white paper that described a 10-year $20.5 trillion plan to fund Medicare for All without raising taxes on the middle class.

Her opponents are using her proposal to define Warren to their own advantage: Biden and Buttigieg say it’s too radical and too expensive; Sanders says it’s inferior to his plan. While single-payer is popular among Democratic primary voters, several polls of swing state voters suggest that the majority favor a more moderate health insurance plan.

That would seem to be an invitation to embrace positions most Democrats actually prefer.

Warren’s problem is that she seems married to a health insurance program which leaks votes and positions her in a fight for the left of the primary electorate. However, we’re in a time when a coalition of minorities, suburban swing voters, and persuadable blue-collar whites are what’s needed to win states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Warren should return to her roots of tax and capitalism reform. These are popular policies with Democrats, even with those who are against mandatory single payer health insurance. The continuing rise in inequality requires us to do something to narrow it.

And Warren’s wealth tax could do just that, and finance more robust social programs and spending on infrastructure. The US mostly taxes individuals on the income earned from their jobs and investments, while a wealth tax would levy taxes on assets like stocks, yachts, artworks and vacation homes.

Both Sanders and Warren have an asset tax plan. In Warren’s plan, all net worth under $50 million is exempted, compared to $32 million for the Sanders plan. Business Insider says the Sanders plan would bring in $4 trillion in government tax dollars over a decade. And, Warren’s version would total $500 billion less in the same period.

During this primary season, moderates and progressives will have to understand clearly why they are Democrats, and how they will bridge their differences by November 2020 and deliver massive turnout.

Both wings need to remember that it isn’t enough to win the White House. Legislative gridlock must end.

It wouldn’t hurt if Warren did some thinking about her single payer plan, too.

 

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