Elizabeth Warren Is Dodging Questions . . . But It Probably Won’t Matter

Sen. Elizabeth Warren responds to a question during a forum held by the Giffords group and March For Our Lives in Las Vegas, Nev., October 2, 2019. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Those of us who are not fans of Elizabeth Warren and who think she’s gotten mostly a free ride from the media are enjoying the current moment, where Democratic rivals are hammering her over a stubborn refusal to admit that paying for Medicare for All would require tax increases on more than just “the rich” and big corporations.

In the last debate, when asked, “Senator Sanders acknowledges he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for all. You’ve endorsed his plan. Should you acknowledge it, too?” Warren responded by shifting to discussion of “costs” and hoping no one would notice the difference.

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“Costs will go up for the wealthy,” she said. “They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down. I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families.”

Unfortunately for Warren, her rivals did notice.

Pete Buttigieg called the issue a “a yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer.” Amy Klobuchar said, “At least Bernie’s 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 it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.”

Joe Biden got in on it, too: “The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years. That is more on a yearly basis than the entire federal budget . . . If you’re making — if a fireman and a schoolteacher are making $100,000 a year, their taxes are going to go up about $10,000. That is more than they will possibly save on this health care plan.”

Ask Warren about the costs, and she’ll respond a non sequitur about how awful it is when insurance companies refuse to cover particular treatments.

Now Warren is promising to come out with a more detailed plan.

The bad news for those of us who like seeing her grilled is that her answers or non-answers may not matter much. She’s following a well-worn playbook by previous successful Democratic candidates. Democratic presidential candidates insist that their plans will not increase taxes on the middle class, and furthermore pledge to reduce the tax burden on the middle class. And then, once inaugurated, they suddenly reveal, “oh, wait, never mind, your taxes are going up after all.”

On the campaign trail in 1992, Bill Clinton promised an income tax cut for the middle class; once he was in office, he abandoned the plan to cut income taxes and enacted a variety of tax hikes, some of which hit the middle class: raising the federal tax on gasoline, raising the percentage of Social Security benefits subject to income taxes, phasing out various deductions, and raising the alternative minimum tax.

Then-Senator Obama promised, on Sept. 12, 2008, speaking in Dover, N.H., “I can make a firm pledge.  Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.  Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

But as president, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, which enacted 21 new taxes, some of which hit the middle class.

Separately, under President Obama temporary payroll tax break was not renewed in in 2013, creating a de facto tax increase for millions of workers. A worker making $50,000 per year found his tax bill going up by about $1,000.

Any country that has almost $23 trillion in debt is not one that spends a lot of time worrying about how the government is going to pay for its promises. While running for president, Donald Trump pledged to completely eliminate the debt — not the annual deficit, but the entire federal debt — within eight years. Needless to say, he hasn’t come close; we’re back to trillion-per-year deficits again. If Republican primary voters aren’t asking about how we’re going to pay for things, there’s no way Democratic primary voters are.

Sure, the pledge to not raise taxes on the middle class is a lie. But a lot of voters want to believe the lie.

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