Senate

Senate Democrats see Warren, Sanders proposals as unfeasible

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (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 Trump.

{mosads}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 Manchin (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 Tester (D-Mont.).

Sen. Mark Warner (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 Shaheen (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 Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (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 Biden, 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 Harris (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 Stabenow (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 Ryan (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 Bullock (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.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Debbie Stabenow Donald Trump doug jones Elizabeth Warren Immigration Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Hickenlooper Jon Tester Mark Warner Medicare for all Steve Bullock Tim Ryan tuition
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