Some Journalists Advise Against Asking Elizabeth Warren How She’d Pay for Medicare for All

October 17, 2019 Updated: October 18, 2019

Some professionals in the media are arguing that repeatedly asking Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) about how she’d pay for Medicare for All is giving Republicans ammunition in the 2020 race.

Warren, 70, is one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination.

Warren has championed the government takeover of the healthcare industry but has declined to state that Medicare for All would require higher taxes on the middle class, prompting reporters to ask her a number of times to clarify her position. Each time, she has again declined to say the plan would require tax hikes, instead arguing that the “overall costs” would go down.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Warren’s rival in the 2020 race, wrote the Medicare for All bill Warren has praised. Sanders has said multiple times his plan would require higher taxes while also alleging overall costs would go down. One proposal he’s put forth for financing is a 4 percent tax increase on families making more than $29,000 each year.

Senator Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, on Aug. 20, 2019. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Other 2020 contenders have attacked Warren over her refusal to be clearer about the financing methods for Medicare for All, including at the Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 15.

When the moderator turned to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg after Warren, asking him about his use of the word “evasive” to describe her on healthcare, he said: “Well, we heard it tonight. A yes or no question that didn’t get a yes or no answer.”

“This is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular,” he added. “Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”

The question also got play in the debate in September and in the debates in July.

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, the former public editor of the New York Times, said after the debate that asking Warren about how she’d finance Medicare for All was “doing President Trump’s work for him.”

“It’s legitimate to dig into the costs, but not in a way that creates a nice GOP campaign ad,” she wrote.

New York University professor Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism, chimed in on Twitter on Wednesday, saying: “The ‘make Elizabeth warren say she would raise taxes on the middle class’ question should be a credibility killer. For the journalists who keep asking it.”

Sullivan replied to him, sharing a link to her op-ed, and he praised it.

“I like the way you put it,” he wrote, before quoting from the piece: “Of course, it’s legitimate to dig into the costs, but not in a way that creates a nice GOP campaign ad, and misses the larger lens of overall costs. (Warren, notably, refused to take the bait.)”

Huffington Post editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen, another former New York Times employee, also criticized journalists asking Warren about the issue.

“’Will you raise middle class taxes’ is a lazy, gotcha question based on untested premises,” she alleged. “A fairer question would be to ask candidates to explain how they’d convince voters of the tax tradeoff’s benefits.”

Medicare for All is projected to cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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