Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight

Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight
© Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE (D-Mass.), doubling down on her government-run health care plan, argues it's a political plus, avoiding middle class tax increases and setting up a people versus the privileged fight.

After weeks of avoiding specifics, she released details of how to pay for her single-payer initiative that eliminates private health insurance.

Despite campaign claims, this more likely will either drag down Warren's presidential campaign — or drag down a lot of Democratic politicians next fall.

ADVERTISEMENT

The numbers in her revised plan may not be “made up,” as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE charged, but they don't add up.

And the Democratic politicians with the most at stake — Senate and House candidates in competitive contests — worry this is a disaster.

To avoid the middle-class tax hikes, which Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE candidly acknowledges in his single-payer proposal, Warren makes a series of dubious assumptions. She says her plan would cost the federal government $20.5 trillion over a decade; the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein points out that is more than current spending on Social Security — or on Medicare and Medicaid combined.

But it's also some 30 percent to 40 percent less than most of the other reliable cost estimates.

Covering that more than strains credulity. Warren assumes squeezing hospitals, doctors and other providers to a degree that's never worked. She pegs the “administrative costs” of the massive new government program at a little more than 2 percent; that's less than half of other estimates.

ADVERTISEMENT

Warren's initial “wealth tax” slapped a 3 percent surcharge on billionaires’ assets. To find the funds for her health care plan, that has doubled to 6 percent. This isn't realistic and undercuts the case that billionaires should pay a lot more taxes — and a wealth tax, if it ever were feasible, should be debated in the next few years.

Here's a clear-cut example of pie-in-the-sky projections: The Warren plan proposes to raise $2.3 trillion — or 10 percent of what's needed for a single payer plan — from beefed-up tax enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service.

In an interview, former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who fought foolish Republican efforts to cut the agency's budget, estimates a $1 billion increase for the agency budget would be a “good investment,” bringing in $6 billion to $8 billion a year in added revenue. That's only a third of Warren's proposal.

It's true, as the rising Democratic presidential candidate says, special interests and Republicans oppose a government run plan. Her problem is so do most of the politically attuned Democrats.

In an interview last week with me and James Carville, for the launch of the podcast War Room 2020, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKlobuchar shuts down idea a woman can't beat Trump: 'Pelosi does it every day' Budowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE was adamant that the party has to expand Obamacare and not move to a single payer scheme: “I don't think voters want a single-payer where government is  administering all health care,” says the San Francisco liberal who has an especially keen sense of the politics affecting her freshman members.

Less than a handful of House members from competitive districts are co-sponsoring the Warren approach. She'd do well to listen to those freshman representatives, who made the Democrats the majority last year.

New York's Rep. Anthony Brindisi says Warren’s single-payer is “a losing message for 2020.”

Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiDiplomat ties Trump closer to Ukraine furor Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight MORE, a liberal New Jersey freshman, complains that eliminating private insurance is a bad idea.

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids is even more direct: “I've talked to a lot of people who’re not only satisfied with their employer plan but are actually very pleased with it.”

Another newcomer to the House brings special expertise: Florida's Rep. Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton, says, “Why should we spend money when people have good private health insurance? We need to cover those who don't have coverage now.”

Democratic Senate challengers are equally adamant. Listen to incumbents like Michigan's Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Senators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system MORE, who wonders whether next year a single-payer focus could cost them Michigan, a must win state for Democrats.

There's still almost three months before any votes are cast. There will be dueling analyses from think tanks and policy experts, though Warren supporters will be in the minority. Polls will show support for the general notion and concerns about details.

But the best gauge of all — those affected politicians — believe that the centerpiece of the rising second-place candidate for the party's presidential nomination is a loser.

That will please Donald J. Trump.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.