Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren’s Tax-Hike Evasion

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Westerville, Ohio, October 15, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Her health-care plan would require middle-class tax hikes. Why won’t she say so?

If you want a Scandinavian-style welfare state, you’ll need a Scandinavian-style tax code to pay for it. Bernie Sanders is willing to admit as much, and did so again in last night’s debate:

At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health-care bills. But I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They’re going to go up significantly for the wealthy. And for virtually everybody, the tax increase they pay will be substantially less — substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expansions.

Elizabeth Warren was not as forthcoming. Pressed on the subject multiple times by the moderators and other candidates, Warren refused to affirm that her Medicare for All plan — which will cost approximately $32 trillion over ten years, per an Urban Institute study — would necessarily raise taxes on middle-income earners. Marc Lacey of the New York Times, noting that “Senator Sanders acknowledges he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for All,” asked Warren if she should “acknowledge it, too.” She responded:

So the way I see this, it is about what kinds of costs middle-class families are going to face. So let me be clear on this. Costs will go up for the wealthy. 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.

“Let me be clear” is a verbal tic of Warren’s that, as anyone who has watched her campaign will notice, almost always means she’s about to dodge the matter at hand.

Here, she certainly implied that she would raise middle-class taxes — she says she’s committed to cutting overall costs for middle-class families, mirroring Sanders’s higher-taxes-lower-costs rationale — but she refused to state, for the record, that she would.

This is a lie. It’s a lie by omission, but it’s a lie nonetheless. To implement her plan, Warren would have no choice but to raise taxes on the middle class. Moving to a single-payer health-care system would require the imposition of a significant tax increase on millions of middle-income earners.

Democrats often cite Western Europe in defense of their domestic agenda. It would behoove them to know what middle-class tax rates look like in those countries.

No sooner did Warren dodge than the media advanced defenses on her behalf. Does Warren’s equivocation on a matter so central to her domestic agenda reflect poorly on her? No, say pundits, who have since insisted that the fault for Warren’s evasion lies not with the candidate but instead with those who would deign to ask her such a question in the first place.

New York University professor of journalism Jay Rosen explained that the mere act of asking Warren a question about raising taxes on the middle class was “a credibility killer” for “journalists who keep asking it.” Journalism, apparently, demands that aspirants to the highest office in the land be spared the great trial of answering basic questions about their plans to remake one-sixth of the American economy, lest their responses inadvertently redound to the electoral gain of Republicans.

Jack Holmes, a politics editor at Esquire, took issue with the question too. He lamented that the moderators dared to raise the issue at all, as, in his telling, asking “about raising middle class taxes under Medicare For All” furthers “a Republican talking point.” And?

Matt Bruenig of the progressive People’s Policy Project think tank told HuffPost that it is not fair to ask a presidential candidate whether she would raise taxes on the middle class, because “the thing people don’t like about taxes is it means they have less money.” Bruenig insists that “Medicare for All, as proposed, would mean that middle-class people would have more money, not less money.” That last assertion seems to be a bastard reading of an oft-cited Mercatus study, a reading that the study’s author explicitly rejected earlier this year. “It is not possible,” he wrote, “to correct every advocate’s mistaken claim that my study found that M4A would lower national health costs by $2 trillion over 10 years. But anyone interested in accurately understanding the study should be aware that it contains no such finding.”

(Of course, the other “thing people don’t like about taxes” is that they necessarily infringe upon freedom of choice, which, to Medicare for All proponents, is a feature rather than a bug.)

When you have media like this, who needs campaign staff? Everyone knows Warren is going to raise taxes on the middle-class to finance her ambitious domestic agenda, and she ought to say so out loud. Otherwise, this remains just another lie from a woman for whom dishonesty has become something of a habit.

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