Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Manchin dampens progressive hopes for billionaires tax Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over 'dirty' hydrogen provision in climate deal MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats hope to hold Big Oil 'accountable' On The Money — Will the billionaire tax survive Joe Manchin? Democrats cutting paid leave from spending deal amid Manchin opposition MORE (I-Vt.) at Tuesday’s prime-time presidential debate defended “Medicare for All,” free college tuition and other progressive proposals they say they’d push forward if elected president.
The debate over such issues has defined the presidential race, which has at times looked like a fight over the future of the Democratic Party between liberals calling for new ideas and centrists worried the bold approach could turn off voters and lead to four more years for President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE.
In the Senate, Democrats say Warren's and Sanders's most ambitious proposals divide many of their colleagues and face little chance of being enacted, even with a Democratic president.
Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report 21 House Democrats call for removing IRS bank reporting proposal from spending bill Democrats try to back Manchin off killing paid family leave proposal MORE (D-W.Va.), the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, said ambitious proposals such as Medicare for All and free college are little more than campaign pipe dreams.
“There’s the progressive left, which is not where I am at all and not where West Virginia is, my state, and not where I think most of rural America is,” said Manchin, who argued the proposals likely don’t have majority support in the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Manchin said the Democratic lawmakers who support Medicare for All are a “vocal minority” who appear stronger than they are because “the press plays it up so big.”
Other Democrats on Tuesday were less cutting, but said the costs of some of the progressive proposals getting attention on the campaign trail would make them prohibitive.
“How do you pay for it is the question,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWhite House tries to lock down deal with Manchin, Sinema Democrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks Providing affordable housing to recruit our next generation of volunteer firefighters MORE (D-Mont.).
Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Biden administration pushing to include IRS proposal in spending bill despite criticism White House tries to lock down deal with Manchin, Sinema MORE (D-Va.), who is up for reelection next year in a presidential battleground state, warned that big new programs could leave future generations saddled with trillions of dollars of additional debt.
“At the end of the day, there are some people offering — I’m not saying any candidates — that debt and deficits don’t matter anymore. That gives me a great deal of pause,” he said.
“There’s nothing progressive about leaving our kids with a balance sheet that wouldn’t allow America to make great investments,” he added.
Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPaid family leave proposal at risk Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals MORE (D-N.H.) who sponsored Medicare for All in the 115th Congress, which spanned 2017 and 2018, says she now supports a more pragmatic approach to helping people afford health care services.
“I frankly don’t support Medicare for All, for example, because I think there are better, faster ways to improve coverage for people,” said Shaheen, who also faces reelection next year.
She also criticized proposals to offer health care benefits to immigrants who came to the United States illegally.
“I don’t support providing benefits to people who come in here illegally because I’ve got my own constituents and there are people here who are citizens who need benefits, and I’m going to start with them,” she added.
Centrists in the Senate have candidates in the presidential race reflecting their positions, including Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharFacebook tells employees to preserve records amid global inquiries Paid family leave proposal at risk Top Arizona elections official says violent threats fueling worker turnover MORE (D-Minn.) and former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Ohio GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district MORE (D), who have criticized some liberal proposals as unrealistic.
Those two candidates have lagged in the polls, but the Democratic front-runner remains former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report 21 House Democrats call for removing IRS bank reporting proposal from spending bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan MORE, who does not back Medicare for All.
Biden has faced criticism from liberals who see him as too centrist to win the nomination but support from other Democrats who worry a candidate such as Warren and Sanders might be defeated by Trump. Sanders and Warren have both been winning double-digit support behind Biden, along with Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRNC targets McAuliffe, Biden campaign event with mobile billboard Obama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech MORE (D-Calif.).
Liberals like Warren have argued the party could lose the election by being too cautious. A key part of her appeal to supporters is also her argument, as she declared Tuesday night, that “we’re not going to solve the urgent problems that we face with small ideas and spinelessness.”
She called on Democrats to be the party of “big structural change.”
There is definite support for some of the liberal proposals in the Senate and in the House, where battles between centrists and progressives have been a feature of the new majority.
Sanders's Medicare for All bill has 14 co-sponsors among Senate Democrats, though that is a small minority in the 47-member caucus.
In the House, it has 117 co-sponsors, almost half of the House Democratic caucus.
Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocrats try to back Manchin off killing paid family leave proposal In reconciliation, climate-smart agriculture and forestry is the way forward Senate Democrats blast Supreme Court on one-year anniversary of Barrett's confirmation MORE (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said she prefers lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 50 instead of switching to a universal health care system.
She also defended the position of Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanRep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general Pennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress Ohio Democrat calls Vance an 'ass----' over Baldwin tweet MORE (D-Ohio), who clashed with Sanders Tuesday over forcing union members to give up their negotiated employer-provided health care plans for a national plan.
“I personally support having Medicare as an option so people can choose, so that if someone has a good union contract health care plan that they want to keep, like a lot of people do in Michigan, that they can do that,” she said.
Stabenow is the co-sponsor of a bill to set up a so-called public option, through which people could buy into a government-provided health care plan — a proposal that moderate Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockIn Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line 65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Arkansas, New Jersey governors to head National Governors Association MORE (D) endorsed at Tuesday’s debate.
Another Sanders bill, the College for All Act, has doesn’t have any Senate co-sponsors, although a House companion measure has 16 House co-sponsors.
Warren has a separate $1.25 trillion plan to pay for up to $50,000 in student debt for people in households earning less than $100,000.
On the subject of free college, Stabenow said there is a “difference” of opinion within the Democratic caucus.
“Do you offer that for people who are wealthy? I would say no,” she said.
“One of the outrages is the cost of college,” Stabenow added, but argued there are other ways to lower college costs.
Democrats on Capitol Hill up for reelection in purple states say the pursuit of more centrist principles isn’t about spinelessness or small mindedness, it’s simply a difference of opinion about what would work best.
“Those people who said these ideas are not bold enough, they’re not big enough — well, there’s a legitimate difference of opinion about what’s the best way forward,” said Shaheen. “I want to reflect the people who I represent because I think that’s the best way forward.”
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), another centrist who is up for reelection next year, said the media’s portrayal of the presidential debates has given too much attention to Warren and Sanders.
“All you folks in the media who said the only voices were from the left were wrong. We’ve been saying that over and over,” he said.
“No one should believe the left is dominating the Democratic Party,” he said.
Jones said “overall, the rank-and-file Democrats” are not in favor of Medicare for All “and will vote that way.”