Elizabeth Warren has distinguished herself in the Democratic primary as the candidate with big plans who’s not afraid to make big changes. Her steady growth in the polls is finally starting to overtake former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. - and with the Ukraine scandal threatening Biden’s candidacy, it’s starting to look like Warren is the candidate to beat. The other candidates at the fourth Democratic Debate on Tuesday, Oct. 15 definitely acted as if that were the case.
Warren took several hits on her plans for healthcare and the implementation of a wealth tax from the other candidates but especially from more moderate candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
On healthcare, the Medicare for All system which Warren supports alongside her colleague Sen. Bernie Sanders took another round of criticism. Implementing her usual talking points on the subject, Warren avoided addressing whether taxes would increase on the middle class. Shrugging this question off as a "Republican talking point" has been par for the course with her and Sanders but the moderators and other candidates wanted answers.
Sanders has actually admitted that the plan would increase taxes on the middle class but sought to reassure these Americans that their overall costs would go down. Warren zeroed in on the overall costs and refused to address the taxation question.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar tried to put it to rest by saying “At least Bernie is being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up. And I’m sorry, Elizabeth but you have not said that and I think we owe the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg took a similar approach but tied it into the public’s perception of Washington. “We heard it tonight,” he said. “A yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer. Look, this is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular. Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything — except this.”
Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar support some version of a public option plan, Buttigieg penning his as “Medicare for All Who Want It,” and Klobuchar pushing the narrative that the public option is something that can actually get done in the legislature (She has the most compelling argument - the current Medicare For All bill in the House has a very slim chance of passing.)
As approval for Medicare For All has been somewhat dropping, the favorability for public option plans put forth by the “pragmatists” has increased slightly. The conversation over Medicare For All versus the public option isn’t going away anytime soon.
Perhaps a newer, more compelling debate on the stage Tuesday night was about “taxing billionaires out of existence” with a wealth tax, which is supported by Sanders and Warren but not by the other candidates. They, again, favor a more incremental approach than the two progressive firebrands. Criticisms they have leveled are that the wealthy will find loopholes in paying the tax and that similar taxes implemented in European countries have been abandoned after being found difficult to administer.
Warren responded to her critics with “Why is it does everyone else on this stage think it is more important to protect billionaires than it is to invest in an entire generation of Americans?” She intends to use the funds from her tax on multi-millionaires and billionaires (ranging from 2-3%) to fund the tuition of public universities and universal childcare.
Klobuchar had an ample response to this. “I want to give a reality check to Elizabeth,” she said. “No one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires” (A reference to Tom Steyer.) “We just have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea.”
To be frank, Warren’s tear-it-apart ideas can certainly be called bold. But the idea that her opponents, just because they take a different (sometimes more achievable) approach, fail to “dream big” or be bold is a misleading one. Different approaches are not lesser ones.
Additionally, she wants to fund free college, universal childcare and Medicare For All through what is likely to be major changes in taxation. She can’t do it all without raising taxes on the middle class and with the consensus on similar wealth taxes in Europe giving less returns than expected, I don’t see her having funding for many of her programs.
She is trying to be a jack of all trades with her “I have a plan for that” bravado but a jack of all trades is a master of none. With her new status as a front-runner, the heat is on with her far-reaching proposals and I have a feeling the American people will see some of the holes being exposed by the “small dreaming” candidates. Some of us want action, not dreams.