Pelosi distances Democrats from Sanders's plan to raise taxes

Greg Nash

Democrats are not on board with the tax hikes Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders skirts Biden's claim that he'll endorse Clinton The Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Biden spills beans: Sanders will endorse Clinton MORE has proposed to pay for his single-payer healthcare proposal, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday.

"We're not running on any platform of raising taxes," Pelosi said during a press briefing to launch the Democrats' yearly issues conference in Baltimore, Md. "We do want to have a fairer tax system, and … we hope that we can do that this year."

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Sanders on Monday acknowledged that his "Medicare-for-all" healthcare plan would require tax hikes on the middle class.

“We will raise taxes, yes we will,” Sanders said during a Democratic town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Vermont senator, who's running neck and neck with front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: 'I’m just flabbergasted’ by Clinton-Lynch meet AFL-CIO head: Trump’s ‘a fraud’ Sanders skirts Biden's claim that he'll endorse Clinton MORE in Iowa just days ahead of the state's caucuses, emphasized that the individual savings achieved under his healthcare plan would offset the costs of the tax increase. He called critics of the strategy “disingenuous.”

Clinton supporters were quick to pounce, saying Sanders's plan differs from her vow not to raise taxes on middle income Americans.

Pelosi was quick to note that she's supported the single-payer strategy for decades. But the nation's healthcare system has evolved in a different direction, she said, and the political conditions are simply not ripe to scrap the existing infrastructure in favor of Medicare-for-all. 

"He's talking about a single-payer, and that's not going to happen. I mean, does anybody in this room think that we're going to be discussing a single-payer?" she asked. "I've been for single-payer for 30 years, and it is a very popular idea in our country. But we have made a decision about where we're going on healthcare." 

Pelosi, who was a crucial force in ushering the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2009 and 2010, said she's "proud" of the achievement, citing the millions of uninsured Americans who have gained access to health coverage under the law.

"It has achieved the goal of affordable, quality, accessible healthcare for many millions more Americans. It is lowering the cost of healthcare in our country," she said.

Pelosi said the Democrats fought to ensure that the healthcare law included features that are "attractive about single-payer," including provisions barring insurance companies from excluding patients based on pre-existing conditions or establishing lifetime limits on coverage. She conceded imperfections in the law and vowed to work on improvements.

"We have a very realistic plan that's out there," she said. "Can it be improved upon? Everything can. But it's no use having a conversation about something that's not going to happen. 

"Right now we're proud of what we have," she said, "and want to build upon that."

Pelosi, who as Speaker of the House was the highest-ranking female elected official in the nation's history, has repeatedly hailed the notion of having a woman in the White House. But unlike many of her top lieutenants, she has not endorsed a primary candidate, choosing instead to highlight the "shared values" of the three Democratic contenders. 

On Wednesday she amplified that message, calling on Democrats of all persuasions to come to the polls in November — regardless of which name tops the ballot. 

"The fact is that Bernie Sanders is enlarging the universe of people who are paying attention to the election, and we hope that he will bring them to the polls in November to support the Democratic nominee," she said.

"There are differences of opinion in terms of approach, but every one of our candidates shares … concern about all Americans participating in the full prosperity of our country."

The Democrats' issues conference, running through Friday, adopts a theme of unity the leaders are hoping will draw stark contrasts with a Republican conference that's been sharply divided in recent years on major policy issues, particularly government spending.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, chastised the Republicans for focusing their legislative agenda on efforts to undo President Obama's achievements without offering alternatives of their own.

"Sixty-two times repealing the Affordable Care Act is not sufficient," Hoyer said Wednesday. "They need to show what they want to replace it with and let the American public understand the consequences of their proposals." 

Both President Obama and Vice President Biden are scheduled to address the Democrats in Baltimore.