When Is Medicare 4 All Not Really Medicare 4 All?

Ten candidates squared off in the third Democratic primary debate in Houston on Thursday, September 12. Brian Cahn/ZUMA

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I know that what I’m about to write is obvious to a lot of people, but I think it’s probably worth making a lot more obvious. Here goes.

Elizabeth Warren announced her Medicare for All plan last week, and since we’re liberals we immediately jumped on it, demanded more details, deconstructed it, analyzed its benefits, and blue-penciled its costs and funding sources. There’s no help for that. As the Geico ad says: we’re liberals, it’s what we do.

Fine. But we all recognize that it doesn’t matter, don’t we? For starters, to put her plan in place we’d need to win the presidency and the Senate, and that’s a tough task. Then we’d need to eliminate the filibuster, which is very, very unlikely since a few Democrats have already said they wouldn’t join in.

But suppose we miraculously do all that. Actual legislation depends mostly on the Senate, not on President Warren or Speaker Pelosi. This means that health care legislation can’t be more progressive than the 50th most liberal senator, which is likely to be someone like Joe Manchin or Doug Jones. So even in the best case we won’t get the M4A plan that Warren is campaigning on. Not even close.

What this means is that these M4A plans shouldn’t be treated like real legislation to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Rather, they should be treated like Republican tax cut proposals. Nobody bothers to analyze them (except for liberal think tanks, natch) because no one takes them seriously. They are meant merely as markers to show where your heart is. A weak plan shows that you’re a RINO. A big tax cut shows you’re a strong conservative. And a ridiculous plan shows that you’re a lunatic—which might or might not be a good thing depending on the mood of the electorate.

So forget the details. Warren and Sanders are deliberately selling themselves as lunatics. Their plans mean nothing except that they are true blue liberals. Don’t try to read any more than that into them. Biden and Buttigieg and Booker are demonstrating that they’re part of the mainstream Obama wing of the party. And Amy Klobuchar is . . . not trying to demonstrate her DINO credentials, but she’s close.

Bottom line: stop sweating the details. Candidate plans aren’t meant to pencil out with a lot of precision. They’re rough drafts designed to show where their hearts are at. Smart analysts will mostly take them that way.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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