The first night of this month’s Democratic debates provided rapid-fire exchanges on health care, made more complicated by CNN debate moderators who rarely gave candidates time to explain their positions clearly. But the overall tenor of the debate seemed clear:
It's simple: Everyone is for 1) free stuff and 2) not having the middle class pay for it… https://t.co/OxCAQA9zra
— Chris Jacobs (@chrisjacobsHC) July 31, 2019
Health care consumed a fair portion of the debate’s first hour. Following lengthy exchanges in the first segment, another extended discussion on electability in the second segment revolved around health care—specifically the provision in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer bill that would make private health coverage “unlawful.”
Sanders and his fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sparred with other, more moderate candidates—Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg—about the feasibility of banning the private coverage that most Americans currently have, and like. Warren won applause from the audience, and likely from the liberal base, with her (self-)righteous anger at these criticisms, decrying Democrats’ use of “Republican talking points” about “taking away health care,” and attacking Delaney for “talk[ing] about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
But partisan attacks aside, the debates showed more similarities than differences, on two key fronts. First, even candidates like Buttigieg and former congressman Robert Francis O’Rourke (D-TX) said they want to move everyone onto a government-run health plan—they just want to do it in a slower and more subtle fashion than Sanders.
When Buttigieg argued that a government-run “public option” would get to single payer eventually, he meant that he would sabotage private coverage to force people into the government system over time. After all, Democrats wouldn’t support the creation of such an “option” if they didn’t think it would lead to huge enrollment, which they believe can become a self-fulfilling prophecy through policy bias.
Second, candidates to a person offered a virtually pain-free—and often fact-free—vision of health care, one that posed no tough choices to the American people. When Ryan challenged whether Sanders knew the medical benefits under single payer would meet those currently provided to union households, Sanders shot back that “I do know that—I wrote the d-mn bill.”
Yet while Sanders sponsored the legislation, he obviously has not read it, calling his proposal “Medicare for All” even though it would explicitly abolish the current Medicare program. Sanders also claimed yet again that his proposal would make health care a human right, even though it would do no such thing. People would have the “right” to have their care paid for if they can find a doctor who will treat them, but they have no explicit “right” to care under his bill.
In a similar manner, Warren refused to admit, despite repeated questioning from the CNN anchors, that taxes on the middle class would go up to pay for everyone’s “free” health care. She pledged that total costs would go down, an implicit acknowledgement of the obvious fact that wealthy individuals alone cannot fund a government-run health system costing trillions of dollars annually. But she, like her California Senate colleague Kamala Harris, somehow wants to keep up the fiction that middle-class families can consume all the health care they want without having to pay for any of it in taxes.
Ultimately, one key winner emerged from the debate: Donald Trump. Moderate candidates who have little shot at winning the nomination took multiple shots at the party’s leftward lurch that the Trump campaign can easily exploit next summer and fall.
Ryan said “free” health care will encourage more illegal immigration—a position that puts him in agreement with Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Delaney (just prior to his smackdown from Warren) said the left proposes plans that are “dead on arrival” and “will never happen.”
The more Democrats keep pushing farther and farther to the left—with the debate on outlawing private health insurance a prime example—the better the president’s chances of winning re-election. Given the tenor of Tuesday’s discussion, the Trump campaign should offer to host, and pay for, another debate for Democratic candidates, as soon as possible.