Even the ‘moderate’ proposals would sabotage private coverage, driving everyone into a government-run system. That’s probably why Democrats don’t really answer questions about their health proposals.
For more than two hours Thursday night in Houston, 10 presidential candidates responded to questions in the latest Democratic debate. On health care, however, most of those responses didn’t include actual answers.
As in the past several contests, health care led off the debate discussion, and took a familiar theme: former vice president Joe Biden attacked his more liberal opponents for proposing costly policies, and they took turns bashing insurance companies to avoid explaining the details behind their proposals. Among the topics discussed during the health care portion of the debate are the following.
Most notably, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren again declined to admit whether individuals will lose their current insurance, or whether the middle class will pay more in taxes, under a single-payer health care system. By contrast, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed that while all (or most) Americans will pay higher taxes to fund his single-payer system, middle class families will come out ahead due to his plan’s elimination of deductibles and co-payments.
The problems, as Biden and other Democratic critics pointed out: First, it’s virtually impossible to pay for a single-payer health care system costing $30-plus trillion without raising taxes on the middle class. Second, even though Sanders has proposed some tax increases on middle class Americans, he hasn’t proposed nearly enough to pay for the full cost of his plan.
Third, a 2016 analysis by a former Clinton administration official found that, if Sanders did use tax increases to pay for his entire plan, 71 percent of households would become worse off under his plan compared to the status quo. All of this might explain why Sanders has yet to ask the Congressional Budget Office for a score of his single-payer legislation: He knows the truth about the cost of his bill—but doesn’t want the public to find out.
Believe it or not, Biden once again repeated the mantra that got his former boss Barack Obama in trouble, claiming that if people liked their current insurance, they could keep it under his plan. In reality, however, Biden’s plan would likely lead millions to lose their current coverage; one 2009 estimate concluded that a proposal similar to Biden’s would see a reduction in private coverage of 119.1 million Americans.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar echoed Biden’s attack, saying that while Sanders wrote his single-payer bill, she had read it—and pointing out that page 8 of the legislation would ban private health coverage. (I also read Sanders’ bill—and the opening pages of my new book contain a handy reading guide to the legislation.)
For his part, Sanders and Warren claimed that while private insurance would go away under a single-payer plan, people would still have the right to retain their current doctors and medical providers. Unfortunately, however, they can no more promise that than Biden can promise people can keep their insurance. Doctors would have many reasons to drop out of a government-run health plan, or leave medicine altogether, including more work, less pay, and more burdensome government regulations.
While attacking Sanders’ plan as costly and unrealistic, Biden also threw shade in Warren’s direction. Alluding to the fact that the Massachusetts senator has yet to come up with a health plan of her own, Biden noted that “I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack.”
Biden’s big problem: He wasn’t for Obamacare—at least not for paying for it. As I have previously noted, Biden and his wife Jill specifically structured their business dealings to avoid paying nearly $500,000 in self-employment taxes—taxes that fund both Obamacare and Medicare.
Tax experts have called Biden’s avoidance scheme “pretty aggressive” and legally questionable, yet neither Democrats nor Thursday’s debate moderators seem interested in pursuing the former vice president’s clear double hypocrisy about his support for Obama’s health care law.
I’ll give the last word to my former boss, who summed up the “contrasts” among Democrats on health care:
Dem debate on health care:@berniesanders: If you like your health plan, too bad, we are going to take it away now.
“Moderate” Dem: If you like your health plan, don’t worry, we will gradually take it away.#DemDebate #DemocraticDebate2078:47 PM – Sep 12, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy104 people are talking about this
As I have previously noted, even the “moderate” proposals would ultimately sabotage private coverage, driving everyone into a government-run system. And the many unanswered questions that Democratic candidates refuse to answer about that government-run health system provide reason enough for the American people to reject all the proposals on offer.
There’s her backtracking on busing and her waffling on Medicare for All, not to mention her prosecutorial scandals.
A new national CNN poll of the 2020 Democratic primary has some pretty brutal numbers for Kamala Harris. When CNN last polled the presidential race shortly after the first Democratic debate in June, Harris was on Joe Biden’s heels, trailing just 17 percent to 22 percent. But according to the latest survey by CNN, conducted August 15 to 18, Biden has rebounded to 29 percent, while Harris has dropped all the way down to 5 percent, tied for fourth place with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.
What went wrong for Harris?
The second Democratic debate was a clear defeat for the California senator, but it’s now also obvious that her June debate performance was a Pyrrhic victory.
At the first debate, Harris staked everything on attacking Joe Biden’s record on busing. It worked for her that night: Biden’s immediate response was hapless, Harris was widely declared the winner, and she got a significant bump in the polls.
But Harris’s line of attack raised an obvious and problematic question for her: Would she support reinstating the policies that Biden opposed?
Logically, the answer would appear to need to be “yes.”
“I support busing. Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school,” Harris said on June 30. “Where states fail to do their duty to ensure equality of all people and in particular where states create or pass legislation that created inequality, there’s no question that the federal government has a role and a responsibility to step up.”
But there was a problem for Harris: Busing policies were abandoned because they were wildly unpopular, and there’s no reason to think they’ve magically become popular. So Harris equivocated and then backtracked.
That attacking Biden on busing would paint the attacker into a corner was predictable. It was in fact predicted. See, for example, the end of this article from March in National Review.
Going on the offensive and then retreating on busing made Harris seem inauthentic. And the candidate had been dogged by questions of inauthenticity since the start of her campaign because of her waffling on the issue of Medicare for All, the policy at the center of the 2020 Democratic primary.
First Harris indicated at a CNN town hall that she supported abolishing private insurance, as Medicare for All proposes. Then Harris said she didn’t support abolishing private insurance: She tried to hide behind the fig leaf that Medicare for All allows “supplemental insurance,” while obscuring the fact that “supplemental coverage” would be legal for only a very small number of treatments not covered by Medicare for All, such as cosmetic surgery. And cosmetic-surgery insurance doesn’t even exist.
Harris thought she’d finally figured a way out of the Medicare for All mess in July: She introduced her own plan shortly before the Democratic debates. It tried to split the difference: She promised to transition to a single-payer plan in 10 years (as opposed to Sanders’s four-year deadline). This was meant to reassure progressives that they’ll get there eventually while also reassuring moderates that there will be at least two more presidential elections before the country goes through with anything crazy.
Harris’s provision of Medicare Advantage–type plans was also supposed to reassure moderates, but the second debate demonstrated that she still wasn’t ready to respond to the fact that her plan would eventually abolish existing private health plans for everyone, and she has no serious plan for how to pay for single-payer.
Then there were Joe Biden’s and Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s devastating attacks on Harris’s record as a prosecutor at the second Democratic debate. “Biden alluded to a crime lab scandal that involved her office and resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed. Gabbard claimed Harris ‘blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to do so.’ Both of these statements are accurate,” the Sacramento Bee reported after the debate.
As Harris’s backtracking on busing made clear, no one is seriously considering resurrecting the deeply unpopular policies of the 1970s. But criminal justice is very much a live issue in Democratic politics, and that’s why the attack on Harris’s record as a prosecutor has had such a greater impact than the attack on Biden’s record on busing. Biden continues to do very well among African-American voters, while Harris continues to struggle.
So Harris’s problems go deeper than the fact that she had one good debate followed by one bad debate on matters of style. Both debates revealed she has serious weaknesses on matters of substance. And the hits keep coming on Medicare for All: On Monday, she was savaged by Bernie Sanders after it was reported that Harris told wealthy donors in the Hamptons that she was not “comfortable” with Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill, which she co-sponsored and supported until a few weeks ago. There are still five months left until the Iowa caucuses, but the past two months have demonstrated that Harris has deep problems that she can’t paper over with some well-rehearsed, well-delivered lines in subsequent debates.