Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has repeatedly dodged direct questions about whether she would raise middle class taxes to pay for her Medicare for All proposal.
Warren endorsed the single-payer system long championed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), one of her chief rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Unlike Sanders, who has acknowledged that taxes will go up to cover socialized medicine's $40 trillion price tag, Warren has steadfastly avoided saying a middle class tax hike would be necessary to pay for her plan. In debates, town halls, and even late night television interviews, the Massachusetts senator has instead insisted that "costs" will go down for everyone except large corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Liberal comedian Stephen Colbert pressed Warren on the issue during an otherwise friendly interview on Sept. 17, noting the matter had come up in multiple debates.
"You keep being asked in the debates how are you going to pay for it, are you going to raise the middle class taxes," Colbert said, before coyly adding, "How are you going to pay for it? Are you going to raise the middle class taxes?"
"So, here's how we're going to do this," Warren said. "Costs are going to go up for the wealthiest Americans, for big corporations … and hard-working middle class families are going to see their costs go down."
Colbert again asked Warren if middle class "taxes" would go up; she refused to directly answer. Colbert advised her to compare Medicare for All to public schools in her pitch to voters, saying they might find the added costs worth it.
"I accept your point, and I believe in your point," Warren said. "Health care is a basic human right. We fight for basic human rights, and that's Medicare for All. Everyone gets covered."
Colbert asked the same question of Sanders several weeks after the Warren interview. The socialist Vermont senator did not shy away from admitting a tax increase would be necessary for his plan, while emphasizing that overall costs, such as health insurance premiums and deductibles, would decrease. Sanders has also acknowledged the need for middle class tax hikes to pay for government medical care on the debate stage.
Warren avoided the question when ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos asked her about Medicare for All during the Sept. 12 debate.
"How do we pay for it?" Warren asked. "We pay for it, those at the very top, the richest individuals and the biggest corporations, are going to pay more. And middle class families are going to pay less. That's how this is going to work."
"Direct question," Stephanopoulos said. "You said middle class families are going to pay less. But will middle class taxes go up to pay for the program? I know you believe that the deductibles and the premiums will go down. Will middle class taxes go up? Will private insurance be eliminated?"
"Look, what families have to deal with is cost, total cost," Warren said. "That's what they have to deal with. And understand, families are paying for their health care today. Families pay every time an insurance company says, 'Sorry, you can't see that specialist.' Every time an insurance company says, 'Sorry, that doctor is out of network, sorry, we are not covering that prescription.'"
"And the answer is on Medicare for All, costs are going to go up for wealthier individuals and costs are going to go up for giant corporations," she added. "But for hard-working families across this country, costs are going to go down, and that's how it should work under Medicare for All in our health care system."
During the CNN debate on July 30, Warren told moderator Jake Tapper middle class families will "pay less out of pocket for their health care" when asked about taxes.
Tapper gave her another chance to answer whether middle class taxes would go up, but she again referred to "costs" in her response.
Liberal MSNBC host Chris Matthews accused Warren of dodging Tapper's questions after the debate, but Warren protested at his language about taxes.
"It's how much of your costs because it's how much families end up spending," Warren said.
"Will you pay more in taxes?" Matthews asked. "Why don't you want to answer that question? It's not a Republican talking point. It's a question."
"It's a question about where people are going to come out economically," Warren said.
"That's not my question," Matthews said. "My question is, how much will taxes go up?"
"I spent most of my life studying families that went broke, and a huge chunk of them went broke because of high medical bills and many of them had health insurance," Warren said. "So the question is not do you have health insurance or not have health insurance. The question is how much are you going to have to dig in your pocket to pay."
Matthews repeatedly tried to get a direct answer, but Warren replied it was "costs" that mattered to people.
The Washington Post referred to the issue as the "question Elizabeth Warren won't answer," saying how she'll pay for this "massive expansion of government is still murky."
Her 2020 rivals have taken notice as well during Warren's September surge in the polls. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg called Warren "extremely evasive" in an interview and challenged her to defend her stance in "straightforward terms." Former vice president Joe Biden said her health care plan would be expensive and she would "raise people's taxes doing it."
Warren will join 11 other Democratic candidates on stage for the fourth Democratic primary debate on Oct. 15.