Healthcare

Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All'

A growing number of Senate Democrats say Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) should be more explicit about how she plans to pay for her "Medicare for All" plan.

They say the transparency will be rewarded, and that Warren is taking a risk by not being more open about the costs of Medicare for All.

"There are pluses and minuses to Medicare for All. You have to be direct about the fact that there are certain consequences of it that will affect people differently. The more you can be transparent about it, I think it's important," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who has not endorsed a candidate for president.

Cardin acknowledged that "taxes are sort of a toxic word" but argued that Warren and other candidates who back Medicare for All would be doing themselves a favor by leveling with voters.

"I think you have to be transparent. I think the more you try to be cute, the more it hurts you with voters," he said, noting that Warren's rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who admits that taxes on the middle class will go up, "is much more direct on this."  

Warren's support for Medicare for All is popular among liberal voters in the Democratic base but there's deep skepticism among many Senate Democrats for the plan because of its cost, and because it would jeopardize the nation's longstanding system of employer-provided health care.

Warren's presidential rivals see the potential tax hit on middle-class voters as a vulnerability they can exploit to derail her march to the nomination.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who centrists hope to gain steam in the contest, both went after Warren aggressively on the issue on Tuesday.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who is also running for president, expressed exasperation Thursday with Warren's lack of detail.

"This is her most important plan, this is her most significant plan and she's running on Medicare for All and she will not tell the American people how she'll pay for it," he said.

Warren was careful at Tuesday's debate to emphasize her guarantee that total costs for families would go down under her plan. She also promised that wealthy individuals and corporations would carry much of the burden instead.

"Costs will go up for the wealthy, for corporations," she said Tuesday. "But for middle-class families, it will go down.

Warren stuck to that description when asked Thursday about pressure from fellow Democratic senators to be more explicit in explaining how she'll pay for Medicare for All.

"I've made my principles on this clear. I will not sign a bill into law that does not reduce costs for hardworking middle-class families," she said. "I meet families every time I do a town hall who talk to me about how health care is crushing them financially, even though they have health insurance."

Asked about criticism that she dodged admitting at the debate that taxes would go up for the middle class, Warren said: "What I explicitly said is exactly what I wanted to say. And that is I will not raise costs for hardworking middle-class families."

The attacks on Warren at Tuesday night's debate highlighted how she increasingly is seen as the front-runner in the race. She has surpassed former Vice President Joe Biden in recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, and is among the Democratic leaders in fundraising.

Senate Democrats who back Biden are among those ramping up pressure on Warren over Medicare for all. They contrast Warren's statements about her plan with Sanders, who backs Medicare for All and says it will require tax hikes.

"Sen. Sanders has said it will reduce overall costs for beneficiaries but to pay for it will require raising taxes on virtually everyone," sad Sen. Chris Coons (D-Dela.), who has endorsed Biden.

"I respect the transparency that Sen. Sanders is bringing to this."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has also endorsed Biden, said "any big health plan is obviously costly and how you pay for it is important and people should know."

"My own view is that people who can pay for it, should pay for it but if you can't, you ought to have the government's help," she said.

Other Democrats who are concerned about the potential cost of Medicare for All are leery to direct any criticism at Warren.

"I'm not going to comment on any specific candidate's current proposals," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), another member of the Finance Committee. But he did warn that candidates should be mindful of how their plans could grow federal deficits.

"I know there are some theories out there that say that debt and deficit don't matter anymore, deficits can never cause problems. I don't think the basic rules of economics have been reversed," he said. "We have, thank goodness, not paid the price yet of our close to $24 trillion in debt because we've had remarkably low interest rates for a long time but I would hate to bet the future of our country on that continuing.

"I don't find anything progressive about saddling our kids and our grandkids with a balance sheet that is so far in the red that they'll never be able to dig their way out," he said.

Cardin, who like the majority of the Senate Democratic caucus does not support Medicare for All, said the plan would require raising taxes substantially because private employers would no longer foot the bill for insuring the majority of the American public.

"What you're doing is you're transferring ... the responsibility of payment from the private sector, which is employer, employee and individual, to more on the governmental sector. So there are savings on the private sector, there are costs on the government sector. That means there's going to be need for greater revenue in the public sector," he said.

Other Democratic senators also argued for transparency.

"I think everyone who's running for president should talk about their plan, how they plan to implement it and how to plan to pay for it," said Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) when asked if she agreed with fellow Democrats who say Warren should provide more detail.

Rosen said Republicans should also be pressed to the fiscal effects of their proposals such as the 2017 tax cut and "what that had on our economy, what it has on our health benefits."

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