Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. But on health care, she’s with Bernie.
Warren, a Massachusetts senator and a leading liberal Democratic presidential candidate, has stood out in the 2020 race for her extraordinary focus on detailed plans to address the nation’s most pressing issues. Her website lists specific policies for 43 topics: gun violence, Social Security, the Electoral College and even family farmers.
But on the issue that matters most to many voters — health care — Warren is all in on her opponent Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan. The seeming inconsistency was highlighted during this week’s presidential debate by Democratic front-runner Joe Biden as he defended his own plan to expand the health care overhaul implemented by former President Barack Obama.
“The senator says she’s for Bernie,” Biden quipped. “Well, I’m for Barack.”
No issue has defined the early months of the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination fight more than health care, which has emerged as a powerful proxy in the broader fight for the Democratic Party’s soul in the age of Trump.
The issue is a delicate one for Warren, who needs to unify the Democratic Party’s progressive wing behind her candidacy to overtake Biden in the primary — and then President Donald Trump in the general election. Medicare for All is Sanders’ signature issue, and as such, she can ill afford any daylight on health care between her and Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, if she ultimately hopes to win over his supporters.
On such a critical issue, Warren allies believe there’s no incentive to complicate the debate by creating a new plan.
“Making clear that they’re aligned on the North Star goal of Medicare for All is an important long-term investment in her relationship with Sanders’ voters — as well as an important short-term investment in clarity for all voters,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and a vocal Warren supporter.
Indeed, the Democratic Party’s internal battle over health care has two very clear factions.
Biden leads those who prefer to leave the private insurance market in place but give people the choice to join a government-backed “public option.” Sanders leads the other, which would replace the private insurance market altogether with a single-payer health care system requiring virtually no out-of-pocket costs.
From the beginning, Warren has been clearly aligned with Sanders’ faction. Yet some of Sanders’ supporters are not yet convinced she’s as committed to Medicare for All as the plan’s author. Progressive critics noted, for example, that Warren indicated she supported “a lot of plans” when asked about health care in an interview after the debate.
“I support Medicare for All. I think it’s a good plan. And look, I support a lot of plans — other things that people have come up with. When they’re good plans, let’s do it,” Warren told CBS. “This isn’t some kind of contest (where) I got to think of mine first. It’s what’s best for the American people.”
Nina Turner, who co-chairs Sanders’ campaign, applauded Warren’s consistent public embrace of Medicare for All.
“For Sen. Sanders, it’s a beautiful thing to have a fellow progressive follow his lead on the signature issue of his campaign,” Turner said.
But she suggested that only Sanders is invested enough in the plan to ensure it ultimately becomes law.
“He’s the only one who will see it through all the way to the end,” she said. “This is in his bones.”
Katherine Brezler, who co-founded the group People for Bernie Sanders, said Warren’s embrace of Sanders’ health care plan has helped maintain good relations between the two competitors and their supporters.
“I genuinely think that neither camp is really going to have that hard a time voting for the other,” said Brezler, who helped raise money for Warren’s first Senate bid.
Warren’s campaign declined to comment for this story aside from pointing to the CBS interview.
During the debate, she repeatedly defended her support for the plan, but she let Sanders punch back at Biden when the former vice president raised questions about its cost.
Biden noted Medicare for All would cost taxpayers roughly $30 trillion. A fiery Sanders said the current system would cost $50 trillion while leaving more than 80 million American uninsured or underinsured.
Medicare for All, Sanders said, would cover everyone and eliminate all out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles and co-payments.
“I … wrote the damn bill, if I may say so,” Sanders said as Warren looked on.