She says her wealth tax will pay for student debt relief, child care, preschool and investment in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). There is a healthy debate about whether the wealth tax will fund all that, but at least she has identified a funding source. However, on health care, no matter how many times she is asked whether taxes will go up, she insists “costs” will go down for the middle class. It’s becoming rather obvious she doesn’t want to tell us who is going to pay what for her big, structural change.
None other than late-night host Stephen Colbert made it painfully clear that Warren is ducking. He asked twice about whether taxes will go up and practically begged her to level with voters. “I’ve listened to these answers a few times before," he said, "and I just want to make a parallel suggestion to you that you might defend the taxes, perhaps, you’re not mentioning in your sentence: ‘Isn’t Medicare for All like public school? There might be taxes for it, but you save money sending your kids to school, and do you want to live in a world where your kids aren’t educated? Do you want to live in a world where your fellow Americans are dying?’”
Let’s be clear: If Colbert and debate moderators can figure this out, her opponents in the primary and, more important, the Republicans in the general election will hit her again and again.
It is not simply a matter of the viability of her health-care plan. It goes to her core critique of the moderates: They are too timid and too scared to do the big things. Well, perhaps they have figured out what the big things cost and don’t see they are economically or politically viable.
Warren’s brand is truth-telling about the rich and powerful, but you simply cannot get the rich and big corporations to pay for all of it. The Medicare-for-all plan introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is presumably the basis for Warren’s idea — despite all her other plans, she has little specifics on health care. Sanders’s plan posits a number of funding sources and specifies a premium for families (“a typical family of four earning $50,000, after taking the standard deduction, would pay a 4 percent income-based premium to fund Medicare for All — just $844 a year — saving that family over $4,400 a year. Because of the standard deduction, families of four making less than $29,000 a year would not pay this premium”). Now, there are a lot of people who consider themselves middle-class who might have to pay more, but at least Sanders makes some effort to spell out the costs and the savings.
Warren of all people, who prides herself on talking policy and treating voters like grown-ups, should be capable of spelling it out. “Here’s what a family making $75,000 will pay," she should say. "Here’s what a single person making $60,000 will pay.” When she says the “rich will pay more,” who does she think is “rich”? She’s not offering a big, bold idea if she leaves all the details out. And she certainly is in no position to question the courage and integrity of other candidates who do lay out the costs for their own public-option plans.
As a political matter, Warren should get out ahead of this and put out the numbers herself before she is badgered in the next debate, or before her opponents start making it a feature of their criticisms of her. She can escape answering Colbert’s question on a late-night show in a short segment or filibuster at a debate, but it’s magical thinking to conclude that she can get through an entire campaign without coming clean.