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WaPo on Warren's error: She never should've chased "pure" M4All in the first place

Monday's Washington Post includes an excellent story by Annie Linskey, Jeff Stein & Dan Balz titled, appropriately enough, "How a fight over health care entangled Elizabeth Warren — and reshaped the Democratic presidential race":

In mid-November, a few dozen of the country’s most influential advocates of Medicare-for-all were reviewing details of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to finance the proposed government-run program when they learned that she had unexpectedly changed her position.

Warren (D-Mass.), who had excited liberals when she initially embraced a Medicare-for-all idea first proposed by rival presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was suggesting a more centrist idea: to delay enactment of the single-payer system and, in the interim, give consumers the choice to opt in. The change might have seemed insignificant to most Americans, but to many in the suburban Washington conference room, Warren’s new stance marked an abrupt retreat, according to several people in attendance.

That moment highlighted the political turbulence that Warren has experienced in recent weeks as she has attempted to extricate herself from a policy dilemma that has blunted her steady rise to the top ranks of the Democratic nominating contest.

...“It would have been better to do it earlier,” [Barney] Frank said of her shift, adding that he had privately told her that backing the Sanders plan was “a terrible mistake.”

Recent polling suggests Warren has sustained political damage from her health-care policy. After climbing to the top of the field by focusing on a message of overhauling Washington and Wall Street, Warren plateaued as her campaign became consumed with health care.

Now, she is falling.

Here, again, is Eliabeth Warren's full 5-minute response to the issue of achieving universal healthcare coverage from back in March 2019:

Here's a partial transcript; the full version is availble here:

...there are a lot of different pathways. What we're all looking for is the lowest cost way to make sure everybody gets covered. And some folks are talking about let's start lowering the age, maybe bring it down to 60, 55, 50. That helps cover people who are most at risk and can be helpful, for example, to the labor's plans. Some people say, do it the other way. Let's bring it up from -- everybody under 30 gets covered by Medicare. Others say let employers be able to buy into the Medicare plans. Others say let's let employees buy into the Medicare plans.

For me, what's key is we get everybody at the table on this, that labor is at the table, that people who have to buy on their own, everybody comes to the table together. And we figure out how to do Medicare for all in a way that makes sure that we're going to get 100 percent coverage in this country at the lowest possible cost for everyone. That's our job.

...and here's her response three months later at the first Democratic candidate debate in late June:

Q: Senator Warren, you signed on to Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan. It would put essentially everybody on Medicare and then eliminate private plans that offer similar coverage. Is that the plan or path that you would pursue as president?

WARREN: So, yes. I'm with Bernie on Medicare for all. And let me tell you why. I spent a big chunk of my life studying why families go broke. And one of the number-one reasons is the cost of health care, medical bills. And that's not just for people who don't have insurance. It's for people who have insurance.

Look at the business model of an insurance company. It's to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums and to pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care. That leaves families with rising premiums, rising copays, and fighting with insurance companies to try to get the health care that their doctors say that they and their children need. Medicare for all solves that problem.

And I understand. There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it's just not possible, we just can't do it, have a lot of political reasons for this. What they're really telling you is they just won't fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights...

Over the course of the summer, I, like many others, noticed the seeming 180-degree change in tone...and I waited for her to reverse herself again. And waited. And waited. And finally, last month, she rolled out her "transition plan" to achieving "pure" Medicare for All...and it sounds an awful lot like what I've been arguing for years now:

  • FIRST, pass a robust ACA 2.0 upgrade bill, preferably with a public option included;
  • THEN, a few years later, after the system has absorbed and adjusted to the first bill, THEN pass a full-blown universal coverage bill.

Of course, in Warren's case, she's proposing that the first bill kind of cram ACA 2.0, a Public Option and "Medicare for America" into a blender, while the second bill she's proposing would be Bernie's "pure" M4All bill (except with only a one-year transition supposedly being needed instead of four years, since much of the heavy lifting would supposedly have already been done by that point thanks to the first bill).

In my case, I'm proposing making the first bill only include the ACA 2.0 upgrade and hopefully a robust public option, while the second bill would be "Medicare for America". Still, the basic principle is the same.

In any event, my takeaway from the Washington Post piece is pretty much the same thing I've been saying since June: She should've stuck with her March response instead of chasing after Bernie's base too hard. She and Bernie may be competing for the same demographic, but she was never going to peel away his die-hard supporters, who never trusted her to be a "true believer" in his and only his M4All bill...while many other Dems appear to not trust that she won't try to push through a healthcare bill which is still simply too much for the country to swallow in one sitting.

Instead, she seems to have lost some level of support in both camps. This is similar to what happened to Kamala Harris a few months earlier when she tried "splitting the baby" with her own "Medicare for All" plan, also after months of chasing after Bernie's base on the issue. One difference is that Warren's "brand" was already "muscling in" on Bernie's territory (from the Bernie base POV, anyway) on other issues as well, while Harris was already seen as "less progressive" (again: from the Bernie base POV) to begin with. In both cases, however, they're now trying to appeal to both the "M4All purists" and the "ACA 2.0 w/ a Public Option" wings while seemingly failing to appeal to either.

The stupid part about all of this is that, and I'll say this one more time, whatever Big Healthcare Bill theoretically passes a Dem-controlled House, a Dem-controlled Senate and being singed by a Democratic President between 2021 - 2024 is most likely going to end up being a robust ACA 2.0 upgrade at best regardless of who that "Dem President" ends up being anyway, which makes a lot of this jockeying for position rather pointless.