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Warren says she can fund "Medicare for All" without raising middle class taxes

Warren to explain "Medicare for All" funding

Senator Elizabeth Warren said Friday that she said would fund her universal health care plan known as "Medicare for All" without raising taxes on middle-class Americans "by one penny," seeking to put to rest questions about how she'd pay for her signature domestic proposal.

Her new proposal is a sharp contrast with presidential rival Senator Bernie Sanders, who originally introduced the single-payer health care bill in the Senate and has acknowledged that he would raise middle-class taxes to pay for it.

While Medicare for All has proven to be a strength of Sanders' campaign, producing some of his campaign's highlights — "I wrote the damn bill," he said on the debate stage in July to loud applause — it has plagued Warren, who has faced repeated questions from fellow candidates, reporters and voters over whether she would raise taxes to pay for the plan.

Avoiding a direct answer whenever she has been asked about this, Warren has instead focused on saying that she would work to drive down overall health care costs for Americans.

Warren's plan runs 20 pages and is supported by a group of economists and health care experts consulted in advance of its release. The proposal not only would lower the medical costs for American families by $11 trillion over 10 years, but also slightly lower the total cost the country is projected to spend on health care over the same period by $7 trillion, according to those experts, some of whom led health care policy for the Obama administration.

The Urban Institute, a liberal think tank, estimated last month that it would cost $34 trillion additional to fund Medicare for All for 10 years. Through a series of reforms, public funding reallocations and greater efficiency, the experts enlisted by Warren to examine her plan say she could bring the total additional cost down to just over $20 trillion.

Warren then says she would bring in just under $9 trillion over 10 years by diverting the funds employers pay to private health care plans to the government. To compensate for the remaining $11 trillion, Warren has a set of proposals, including a county-by-county tax on foreign earnings of 35 percent. Warren, who has already proposed a 3 percent wealth tax on fortunes over $1 billion, would increase it to 6 percent to bring in an additional $1 trillion for the health care plan.

But even Warren's well-known wealth tax would produce less than a third of the funds needed for Medicare for all, even if it weren't already fully allocated.

Health care — and how to pay for it — remains the top issue of concern for Democratic primary voters, according to the CBS News Battleground Tracker poll of the first 18 states voting through Super Tuesday. 

Despite the criticism Warren faces from moderate Democrats and Republicans about how her plan would fundamentally alter the American health care system and economy, public opinion appears to be in her side — at least before they hear the details. 

Based on CBS News polling, most Americans think the nation's health care system needs fundamental changes or to be completely rebuilt, and costs are what concern them most.

More than four in 10 are dissatisfied with their health care costs and say affording basic medical care is a hardship. Many have had problems paying medical bills and more than a third say they have gone without medical treatment because of the costs.

Overall views of the U.S. health care system have been largely consistent for many years: most want fundamental changes or a completely rebuilt system.

Regardless, moderates continue to attack Warren for her idea.

Former Vice President Joe Biden raised his concerns during a "60 Minutes" interview last Sunday.

"Do you think there's been any truth in advertising on that it's gonna raise taxes on middle class people, not just wealthy people?" Biden said, adding, "Even Bernie acknowledges you gotta raise taxes."

On Friday, Biden's campaign released a statement assessing Warren's plan as "mathematical gymnastics...geared toward hiding a simple truth from voters: it's impossible to pay for Medicare for All without middle class tax increases." 

The Biden campaign went on to say that "her proposal dramatically understates its cost, overstates its savings, inflates the revenue, and pretends that an employer payroll tax increase is something else."    

On the debate stage last month, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeig called Warren "extremely evasive" on the issue of whether middle-class taxes would increase to pay for her plan. 

The task of forming a detailed proposal to pay for Medicare for All was likely the most difficult yet for Warren, the candidate who gleefully tells audiences that she has a plan for everything. 

But by releasing her plan now, she appears to have emerged from the early debates without giving her opponents the soundbite they hoped for — an admission that rates would increase. And with that loop closed, at least for now, the Massachusetts senator is on the offensive.

"Make no mistake — any candidate who opposes my long-term goal of Medicare for All and refuses to answer these questions directly should concede that they have no real strategy for helping the American people address the crushing costs of health care in this country," Warren wrote in a Medium post released Friday.

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