Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is promising to come up with a scheme for financing her Medicare-for-all proposal without raising total cost for middle class Americans. With quite a bit of data, I have suggested she has little chance of success if she plays straight with the math and insists on expanded Medicare-for-all (covers everything for everyone) and exempts the middle class from higher overall costs.

Now we have two more data points. The quite credible think tank, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, comes up with some options assuming a cost of $30 trillion over the next decade (a midway point in the range of estimates):

We estimate the cost could be covered with a 32 percent payroll tax, a 25 percent income surtax, a 42 percent value-added tax, or a public premium averaging $7,500 per capita or more than $12,000 per individual who wouldn’t otherwise be enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP. Medicare for All could also be paid for by more than doubling individual and corporate income tax rates, reducing federal spending by 80 percent, or increasing the national debt by 108 percent of GDP. Tax increases on high earners, corporations, and the financial sector by themselves could not cover much more than one-third of the cost of Medicare for All.

But you say, none of that is remotely feasible politically and would have all sorts of negative economic consequences.

Warren actually has an even harder task since CFRB does not exempt the middle class. Therefore, Warren cannot use “a 32 percent payroll tax, a 25 percent income surtax, a 42 percent value-added tax, or a public premium averaging $7,500 per capita” if they are going to hit the middle class to such an extent that it wipes out savings from removing insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, etc. This is the equivalent of trying to balance on elephant on the head of a pin.

Then last week came some useful public opinion data. “Asked how honest each of the top-tier primary candidates has been about how their health plans would affect costs, Warren trails Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by 13 percentage points among Democratic voters: 62 percent say she is at least somewhat honest on the subject, compared to 75 percent and 67 percent who said the same of Sanders and Biden, respectively.” A candidate like Warren — who offers herself as an alternative to dishonest pols who pay fast and loose with the truth — needs to address that.

Meanwhile, Morning Consult reports, "While nearly three-quarters of Democrats back Medicare for All, only 48 percent said they’d support a plan requiring the middle class to pay higher taxes even if tax hikes are offset by overall savings on individual costs, according to the new poll. A similar gap exists among the overall electorate, but that’s not a concern for Sanders, who has long been the party’s loudest and most candid voice on Medicare for All.

Warren is promising an astronomically expensive Medicare-for-all that does not adversely impact the middle class when “only 48 percent said they’d support a plan requiring the middle class to pay higher taxes even if tax hikes are offset by overall savings on individual costs.” In other words, even if she could do the impossible and come up with a funding mechanism that satisfies her self-imposed criteria, majority support for it does not exist. Hence my ongoing question: What is the point of all this?

What was a statement of progressive bona fides and a means of preventing Sanders from getting to her left may now be an anvil around her neck, creating a policy problem she cannot credibly solve with no apparent political payoff.

Frankly, since she has built up a great deal of credibility among progressives and has an already elaborate domestic agenda, would it kill her chances to restyle this as a long term “goal” and support a whole bunch of intermediate steps (e.g., lowering the Medicare age, a public option)? She might, if she has not already, do some polling. It is an understandable concern that abandoning a position she affirmed again and again in debates will zap her credibility. The alternative however could be worse. If she does not get this boulder off her shoulders it will weigh her down in every debate and become grist for attack ads. And that is just in the primaries.

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