Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “Medicare for All” funding plan has come under fire from her rivals for the Democratic nomination, but some in her own party say her framing of the issue could ease the concerns of centrist voters.
The Massachusetts senator and leading Democratic presidential candidate said when she released her funding plan earlier this month that it “doesn’t raise middle-class taxes by one penny.”
She estimated that Medicare for All would require $20.5 trillion in federal spending and said that would be paid for with taxes that would directly fall on employers, corporations, wealthy individuals and financial institutions.
For Democratic strategists, Warren’s approach could be a way to soothe voters’ worries about Medicare for All while advancing key progressive ideas.
“The fact that she has devised a plan that would benefit middle class Americans without taxing [them] is certainly reassuring to a lot of people,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist who isn’t working for any of the presidential campaigns.
“What Warren’s plan does is giving voters bold change without raising middle class taxes,” Bannon added.
The plan has stoked controversy, with some critics questioning Warren’s claims that it will avoid raising taxes on the middle class.
A key component is payments that employers would make to the federal government, estimated to raise $8.8 trillion.
Some policy experts say that Warren’s proposed employer contribution is a tax that would ultimately be paid by workers. But others argue that burdens on the middle class wouldn’t go up because employers would be shifting from making payments to private insurers to payments to the federal government.
Supporters of Warren’s plan also note that the plan makes clear that Warren would eliminate premiums, deductibles and copays, which should be a relief for voters with questions about Medicare for All.
Adam Green — co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which has endorsed Warren — said that “Warren’s Medicare for All financing plan is functionally like an $11 trillion tax cut for middle class families,” because it eliminates out-of-pocket health costs for workers and targets tax increases at the wealthy and corporations.
Warren is one of the leading candidates in the Democratic primary, and health care is one of the most prominent issues in the race. But her plan also came after she faced intense pressure to provide details on how she would fund Medicare For All.
She had avoided saying in debates whether she’d raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for All, leading to criticism from more moderate candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the other top-tier candidate with a Medicare for All plan that would do away with private insurance, has said he would directly raise taxes on the middle class to pay for his plan.
Because Warren’s plan claims it won’t raise taxes on the middle class, it “takes some of the starch” out of attacks she’ll receive from Biden, Bannon said. It also “puts her up as a great selling point in the battle against Sanders,” he added.
The release of Warren’s plan also allowed her to provide answers to a question that debate moderators had consistently pressed her on, even as she rose in the polls and voters viewed her debate performances favorably.
“In each of the last debates, while pundits were obsessing about magic words around taxes, voters were consistently saying Elizabeth Warren won,” Green said.
Strategists also said they see Warren’s Medicare for All plan as an effort to reinforce that she is the candidate with detailed policy solutions.
Michael Fraioli, a Democratic strategist who had worked on Rep. Tim Ryan‘s (D-Ohio) now-defunct presidential campaign and is unaffiliated, said that Warren — who has used the slogan “I have a plan for that” — needed to provide details on her “signature issue” of Medicare for All.
Warren’s Medicare for All funding plan isn’t the only area where she’s taken steps to make her proposals for big changes to the economy seem more palatable to moderate voters. For example, Warren stresses that she’s a capitalist, unlike Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist.
But it remains to be seen how effective Warren’s health care funding plan will be in easing the concerns of voters who have reservations about Medicare for All.
Some of the fiercest critics of her plan have been her more centrist rivals in the Democratic primary, such as Biden.
The proposal also has drawn criticism from some Democratic-leaning economic policy experts, in addition to many tax experts on the right. For example, Larry Summers, a key player on economic policy in past Democratic presidents’ administrations, argued in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday that “the combined tax impact of Warren’s various plans is extreme.”
Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the center-left think tank Third Way, said he thinks Warren tried to ease people’s concerns with her funding plan, but “there’s a lot of skepticism out there by reasonable people.”
“It needs to hold up to scrutiny and I’m not sure it can,” he said.
GOP politicians have also already started to attack Warren over her Medicare for All plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday that Warren’s proposal was “breathtaking.”
“In order to take away employer-sponsored insurance from 180 million Americans, Democrats want to kill American jobs and bring the economy to a screeching halt,” McConnell said.
Democratic strategist Craig Varoga said that Republicans will likely ignore the fact that Warren’s funding mechanisms are targeted on businesses and wealthy people, and instead hone in on her proposing around $20 trillion in tax increases.
“Republicans will not discuss the specifics of Warren’s funding mechanism, only the size of it, and they will reduce it to bumper-sticker simplicity, that it’s the biggest tax increase in American history,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether that’s accurate or not, or how it polls 12 months before the election, that’s what they will say, and Trump will say it louder than anyone.”
The Progressive Change Institute, also co-founded by Green, is planning in the coming days to make public the results of a poll, done in partnership with Public Citizen and Business for Medicare For All, that finds that a majority of registered voters support Medicare for All, both nationally and in battleground states.
However, a recent poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and the Cook Political Report found that most Democratic voters in four key battleground states think Medicare for All is a good idea, but that most swing voters in those states view it as a bad idea.
Both the Progressive Change Institute and the KFF surveys were conducted before Warren released her funding plan.
Ashley Kirzinger, associate director for public opinion and survey research at KFF, said it is “yet to be determined” how the plan will resonate with the public, given that Republicans will use it against Warren but that people become more favorable toward Medicare for All when they learn it will eliminate their out-of-pocket costs.
“People are still learning how it works,” she said.