Several Democratic presidential contenders launched an attack on surging U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on healthcare and taxes during a debate on Tuesday, pushing her to explain how she would pay for ambitious proposals including her Medicare for All plan.
At the first debate since Warren climbed into a virtual tie with former Vice President Joe Biden in many Democratic opinion polls, Warren was a repeated target for contenders trying to lift themselves out of the bottom of the crowded Democratic presidential pack.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said Warren was being evasive on her plan for universal healthcare and that it would mean higher taxes.
“I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where to send the invoice,” Klobuchar told Warren. “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done.”
Klobuchar pushed back when Warren said critics of her wealth tax wanted to protect billionaires, saying: “No one on this stage wants to protect billionaires,” adding: “Your idea is not the only idea.”
“Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this,” he said.
The sharp exchanges were a sign of the heightened stakes among the dozen candidates cramming the debate stage in the electoral battleground state of Ohio.
It was the most crowded debate so far in the Democratic race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
The debate comes at a critical time, as Biden has seen his once solid lead in opinion polls in the Democratic race diminished by Warren, a leader of the party’s progressive movement, who has steadily risen over the past two months.
Warren stayed calm under the repeated attacks, offering her proposals to end income inequality and level the economic playing field for workers.
She said she would not sign any bill that required a tax increase on middle-class families and promised the Medicare for All proposal, which is also backed by her fellow progressive, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, would lower costs for everyday Americans.
“I have made clear what my principles are here, and that is that costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations and, for hard-working middle class families, costs will go down,” she said.
The expansive Medicare for All proposal, based on the government-run healthcare plan for Americans over age 65, has sharply divided Democratic presidential contenders. Many other
Democratic candidates back a Medicare-based plan as just one option for Americans seeking healthcare coverage.
Sanders said he thought it was “appropriate to acknowledge that taxes would go up” under a Medicare for All plan.
Buttigieg plugged his plan for “Medicare for All Who Want It,” a proposal that Warren poked fun at.
“Whenever someone hears the term Medicare for All Who Want It, understand what that really means is Medicare for All Who Can Afford It,” Warren said.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker warned the Democrats against tearing each other down during the debates, and urged them to keep their eyes on the goal of beating Trump.
“I have seen this script before,” Booker said. “It didn’t work in 2016 and it will be a disaster for us in 2020.”
Backing impeachment probe
At the first debate since Democrats in Congress launched an impeachment probe against Trump, the candidates defended the inquiry and said the president needed to be held accountable for his actions and for stonewalling Congress on its probe.
The investigation focuses on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his unsubstantiated allegation that Biden improperly tried to aid his son Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine.
Biden and Sanders both said that Trump was “the most corrupt president in history,” and Congress would be remiss if it did not pursue the impeachment probe.
“Look, my son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine and that’s what we should be focused on,” Biden said. “What I think is important is we focus on why it’s so important to remove this man from office.”
Warren said: “Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences.”
Buttigieg said “the president had left Congress with no choice.” But some Democrats warned that the party should bring Americans on board to support the probe. “We have to conduct this process in a way that is honourable,” Booker said.