WASHINGTON — When the Democratic presidential debate turned to health care Tuesday, the candidates engaged in a now-familiar clash. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders unapologetically pushed their case for government-run “Medicare for All” as Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg warned that they were not being up front with voters about the huge price tag of such a program.
“We need to begin to tell (the public) what we’re going to do and what it’s going to cost,” Biden said, arguing that Sanders’ proposal to cover the cost of free health care for all, largely with a 4% income tax, is unrealistic. Such a tax, he said, “doesn’t even come close to paying for between $30 and $40 trillion over 10 years,” referring to the estimated cost of the Sanders plan.
Warren tried to make the case that every plan proposed by every candidate on the stage is an improvement over the Trump administration’s policy of dismantling Obamacare. But she aggressively attacked the moderates on the stage when they took aim at her proposal.
“The numbers the mayor is offering just don’t add up,” Warren said of Buttigieg’s argument that transformational change can happen in health care without spending the tens of trillions Sanders and Warren envision. She said the Buttigieg plan simply would not provide the needed relief to a low-income family struggling with medical bills that average $12,000 per year. “You can’t cover that with the kind of money the mayor is talking about,” Warren said.
Buttigieg took exception.
“It’s just not true that the plan I am proposing is small,” he said. He complained of a “Washington mentality” that he said judges the bigness of a plan by how many trillions it cost and the boldness is judged by “how many Americans you can alienate.”
Buttigieg found an ally in Klobuchar, who has tended to be one of his toughest critics on the debate stage. She joined him in attacking Warren.
“It is much better to build on the Affordable Care Act, and if you want to be practical and progressive at the same time, and have a plan and not a pipe dream, you have to show how you’re going to pay for it,” Klobuchar said.
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