Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the two leading progressive candidates in the 2020 race, squared off against a stage filled with moderates who took aim at their Medicare for All and immigration plans.
Sanders and Warren defended their vision of Medicare for All, which would create a comprehensive single-payer system and eliminate nearly all private health insurance, while moderate opponents like former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock insisted that their proposal amounted to “wish list economics” and urged for a system more along the lines of a public option, which would allow certain people to get government-subsidized health care while allowing people to keep their private plans.
Delaney claimed that Medicare for All would be “political suicide,” insisting that people want to keep their plans.
“You’re wrong,” Sanders bellowed.
Warren accused Delaney of pushing “Republican talking points.”
“Let’s be clear about this: We are the Democrats. We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone,” she said. “That’s what the Republicans are trying to do.”
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan insisted that Sanders did not know the effect that his bill would have on all union workers.
“I do know,” Sanders shot back. “I wrote the damn bill.”
Dems split on immigration:
Bullock also took issue with Warren’s plan to decriminalize border crossings, which he called “detached.”
“[I]t matters if we say our law is that we will lock people up who come here seeking refuge, who come here seeking asylum. That is not a crime,” Warren replied. “And as Americans, what we need to do is have a sane system that keeps us safe at the border but does not criminalize the activity.”
Ryan criticized Sanders for proposing to provide health insurance for undocumented immigrants.
“I happen to believe that when I talk about health care as a human right that applies to all people in this country, and under a Medicare for All single-payer system, we could afford to do that,” Sanders said.
Dems disagree on major reform vs. Policy improvements:
The main theme of the nearly three-hour-long debate boiled down to whether voters would back candidates like Warren and Sanders, who are proposing wholesale overhauls on key issues, or candidates like Bullock and Hickenlooper, who want to improve on the existing system.
“In this discussion already tonight,” Ryan said, “we’ve talked about taking private health insurance away from union members in the industrial Midwest, we’ve talked about decriminalizing the border, and we’ve talked about giving free health care to undocumented workers when so many Americans are struggling to pay for their health care. I quite frankly don’t think that that is an agenda that we can move forward on and win.”
But those on the left were undeterred.
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” Warren said during one exchange with Delaney.
Author and fringe debate star Marianne Williamson also questioned why certain Democrats were unwilling to go further in their policy proposals.
“I look at some of you and I almost wonder why you’re Democrats,” she said. “You almost think something is wrong with using the instruments of government to help people.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg reminded the centrists on stage that whether the Democratic candidate runs on Medicare for All or a public option, Republicans will call them “socialist.”
“It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say,” he said.