Since the election of Ronald Reagan, austerity politics have ruled in Washington. Taxes have been at the center of Washington’s austerity agenda. The political right in the U.S. has repeatedly used the tax code as a weapon to slash spending and starve the working class. Influential mouthpieces of the political right such as the Federalist Society and its political wing of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, have made the demand for lower taxes a matter of patriotism. The demagogy over taxes has been effective in shrinking federal taxes on the income and wealth of the rich—a phenomenon that possesses few challengers in either corporate party.
Medicare for All is arguably the most popular policy in the United States among the electorate. The policy, which is a U.S.-based approach to single-payer healthcare, enjoys majority support from both Democratic Party and Republican Party voters. However, Medicare for All is hardly treated as a popular policy by the Democratic Party. Only Bernie Sanders has unequivocally placed his support behind the policy and campaigns on the fact that he “wrote the damn bill.” This is in reference to the Medicare for All Act of 2019 introduced in the Senate by Sanders last April.
Elizabeth Warren co-sponsored Sanders’ Senate bill. However, Warren has worked hard to differentiate herself from Sanders during the Democratic primary despite adopting much of his overall platform. Nowhere has this been clearer than her political maneuvers around Medicare for All. Warren voiced support for Medicare for All since the beginning but has spent months avoiding specifics about what would make her approach different from Sanders. This provided an opportunity for the corporate Democratic Party machine to ensnare Warren into the dominant rightwing narrative about taxation in America. Rather than take the principled position of funding single-payer healthcare through a progressive payroll tax, Warren released her own funding planher own funding plan that vowed to protect the “middle class” from any additional taxes to pay for Medicare for All.
That Warren would fall into the tax debate trap is especially concerning since the corporate Democratic Party has clearly repeated health insurance industry talking points about taxes and Medicare for All for nearly four years. Joe Biden spent much of October slamming Sanders for proposing to raise taxes on the “middle class” to fund Medicare for All. What does Warren do? She heeds Biden’s rightwing talking points by releasing a funding plan that supposedly includes no new taxes on workers or “middle class” families. The funding plan is not just dishonest and untenable; it repudiates basic social democratic principles on taxes that were at one time key to differentiating Democrats from Republicans.
Elizabeth Warren’s plan calls not for a progressive payroll tax to cover the cost of single-payer healthcare but rather a Medicare Head Tax rebranded as the Employer Medicare Contribution. The Medicare Head Tax is a lump sum payment for corporations with over fifty employees and would be equal to about ninety percent of what employers already pay for healthcare under Obamacare. Corporations that employ fewer than fifty workers would be exempt from the tax. One of the major problems with the Employer Medicare Contribution is that it will incentivize large corporations to move their workers to “independent contractor” status or simply contract sections of their labor power to outside vendors. This is an extremely common practice and explains why, under Barack Obama, nearly ninety percent of the jobs created during his administration were temporary or part-time.
By and large, the Medicare Employer Contribution is a regressive tax. According to the Tax Policy Center, the tax would charge employers a flat rate which would ultimately come out of the wages of workers. Employers that concede to unionization and an increase in wages would pay a smaller portion of the tax. Warren’s plan does not spell out how her administration would enforce a federal head tax on an employer by employer basis. In the United States, unions in both the public and private sector have little capacity to negotiate tax structure on top of the growing pressures placed on workers by employers. An employer head tax is as unworkable as it is regressive.
Warren also proposes modest taxes on billionaire wealth and U.S. military spending to finance a portion of Medicare for All. The problem isn’t that Warren wants to tax the rich and make corporations pay more than they do now. Indeed, Warren shares the belief to tax the rich with the more social democratic candidate in the race, Bernie Sanders. Where the problem lies is in the fact that Warren is quick to release lofty plans that rely on the goodwill of billionaires while ignoring the need for popular revolt and participation. Billionaires and their corporations have the power to undermine any policy that they find out of synch with their for-profit interests. The second richest billionaire on the planet, Bill Gates, has already stated that he has yet to decide whether he would support Warren or Trump for president if he had to choose between the two. Warren responded by urging Gates to meet with her rather than calling upon working class people themselves to force Gates to give up the goods, or else.
Warren assumes that her superior plans will make money flow from billionaires, their corporations, and their trillion-dollar war industry without popular pressure. What she fails to realize is that programs such as Social Security and Medicare were products of mass movements that demanded an improvement in the condition of the working class. Medicare and Social Security are universal programs funded by a payroll tax to help protect them from the political influence of the rich and powerful. This is what Frederick Delano Roosevelt had in mind when he was pressured into legislating the New Deal to save capitalism from the threat posed by the organized resistance of workers and the unemployed. To this day, Social Security and Medicare are the two most popular programs in the United States. Two-thirds of the electorate in the U.S. are more willing to back candidates who support the expansion of Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security and Medicare were virtually untouchable until the Washington Consensus and the War on Terror fully united the Democratic and Republican Parties around an austerity agenda. Warren’s Medicare for All funding plan, like her other plans, falls behind the neoliberal moment which has terrorized the lives of ordinary people for the last thirty years. Bernie Sanders’ campaign platform has been coupled with the call for workers and poor people to organize themselves into a mass movement capable of forcing the ruling class to end its regime of austerity. Warren believes that working within the establishment as a “policy wonk” will transform a society ruled by an entrenched oligarchy. Elizabeth Warren’s approach explains why she has repeatedly caved to rightwing talking points when it comes to funding Medicare for All.
Warren’s contradictory approach to Medicare for All renders her both untrustworthy and counterrevolutionary. While Sanders possesses his own contradictions (running within the Democratic War Party being the primary one), he has yet to claim indigenous identity, oppose public control of utilities, or promise to take “dark money” in the general election. These are just a few blights on Warren’s record that send a clear message to the elite. If the elite place their bets on her, she can be trusted to serve their agenda. Warren’s decision to include a regressive tax measure in her Medicare for All Funding plan should come as no surprise, but it should anger workers and ordinary people seeking an escape from austerity for the sheer fact that she would waste countless hours of their time attempting to bamboozle them into supporting a less progressive candidate.