Hillary Clinton is apparently so assured of victory in the Democratic presidential primary that she is already positioning herself to sell out the left. One of her campaign flacks recently picked a fight with Bernie Sanders' campaign on taxes, claiming that his health care plan would mean huge tax increases and a decrease in take-home pay for the middle class.
This is extremely depressing.
Not only is Clinton already playing into the stereotype that she is nothing but a will-to-power human void, she is utterly mistaken on the merits. She would do well to stop validating Republican arguments.
Sanders has consistently been in favor of a single-payer health care system — or Medicare for all. (Listen to him give a valiant but doomed speech on the issue back in 2009, when ObamaCare was in the process of being passed.) He has rightly argued that Medicare for everyone would mean an increase in the average quality of health care for most people, particularly for those towards the bottom of the income ladder. When you look at the functioning-but-janky ObamaCare exchanges, or the performance of Medicare compared to the rest of the health care system, or the performance of similar programs across the world, this is simply inarguable.
Now, it's true that this would mean quite a lot more government spending. Medicare is already a huge line item in the federal budget, and putting everyone into it would jack up the price by quite a lot. Taxes would have to go up, and the middle class is no exception. The rich wouldn't be able to cover it all by themselves.
So Clinton flack Brian Fallon is right that taxes would have to be increased. However, he is totally wrong in this conclusion:
[S]imple math dictates he'll need to tax workers even more to pay for the rest of his at least $18-20 trillion agenda. If you are truly concerned about raising incomes for middle-class families, the last thing you should do is cut their take-home pay right off the bat by raising their taxes. [Politico]
What he's overlooking is that when you're enrolled in Medicare, your personal health care expenditures are vastly decreased. If you get your insurance through your employer, take a look at your paycheck sometime and see how much of it goes towards insurance. Especially if you've got kids, it's probably a lot.
Or for people on ObamaCare, let's imagine a family of four living in Mississippi. They're 35 and 33, with two kids aged 5 and 2, with a household income of $50,000 (just about the median). A quick scan of Healthcare.gov suggests that such people would pay between $4,500 and $5,000 for silver-level plans, taking into account a sizable tax credit. That's about a tenth of their income, right there.
In other words, you'd be getting something really good for the increased taxes: portable, universal, high-quality insurance that would cover your whole family, no questions asked, forever. Of course, you do have to pay for certain parts of Medicare, but given that it is the about the cheapest per-unit part of the U.S. health care system, most people would almost certainly come out ahead — paying less in taxes than they previously did in premiums.
So Fallon is talking out of his hat. But what's so utterly pernicious about his argument is how thoroughly it partakes of Republican talking points. Taxes are represented as a straightforward grab and pre-tax income is presented as the only legitimate way to boost incomes — leading inevitably to the conclusion that taxes should always be kept as low as possible. No way to fund a decent welfare system with that attitude.
This is not a purely theoretical debate, either. America stands at a crossroads with its health care system. The ObamaCare exchanges have been a giant pain in the neck, and screwed a lot of people over, but they basically work. Moving forward, conservatives might even try and change Medicare and Medicaid over to an ObamaCare-style system, since it is the most conservative possible idea that could ever conceivably work.
Leftists, on the other hand, favor moving the other direction — putting more and more people onto Medicare and Medicaid (putting all children into Medicare would be a good first step), until we arrive at single-payer from either direction, and ObamaCare is just a minor vestige.
If Hillary Clinton is trying to dispel the idea that she'd sell out the best parts of the American welfare state in pursuit of a self-aggrandizing bargain with conservatives, she's not doing a good job of it.