Big, structural change? More like big, structural incrementalism.
That’s what some progressives are saying about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who walked back her Medicare for All plan on Friday by announcing she won’t fully install a national single-payer health program until her third year in office.
It’s a different policy than what Warren has spent months on the campaign trail stumping for — and a plan she’s heavily criticized her Democratic primary opponents for supporting. She now sounds a lot more like Pete Buttigieg and — gasp! — Joe Biden.
And the backlash among young progressives has already begun, with leftists painting Warren as insincere and unprincipled.
“Her latest proposal … is smoke and mirrors, a red herring — any cliche you like. It looks as if Warren’s feet of clay have returned, and that this proposal merely allows her to continue to claim that she supports Medicare for All,” Libby Watson wrote in The New Republic.
“[The proposal] is a clearer indication that she has settled for the public option, like most of the rest of the field,” she continued.
In the pages of Jacobin, a bible for young democratic socialists and vocal supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, writer Carl Beijer called Warren’s proposal “practically tailor-made to divide, depress, marginalize, and exhaust any political will for single payer before we've even begun the final fight.”
“Doing this in stages creates a political danger and an opening for opponents to prevent further progress,” Adam Gaffney, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, told the Washington Post. “The longer the rollout, the more political risk.”
Even campaign aides to Biden and Buttigieg have criticized Warren’s flip-flop.
Under Warren’s new plan, she would commit only to a series of reforms to the health care system led by executive order, which would include increasing Medicare availability for people of certain age groups and bringing down drug costs. She also proposes creating a public insurance option through the insurance exchange established by the Affordable Care Act.
Only after these reforms take place, after the first few years of her presidency, will Warren fight to fully transition into a national single-payer system.
On Twitter, the announcement of Warren’s health plan garnered over 2,000 comments — a good many of them critical of the Massachusetts senator.
“Elizabeth Warren retreated from Medicare-for-all today. That’s what happened,” writer Walter Bragman said on Twitter. “Warren has hurt the movement for Medicare-for-all.”
“Are Warren supporters okay with this?” another user wrote. “A public option in her first term? And a ‘fight for M4A’ in years 3-4, with implementation in a second term? That's … ok with y'all?”
Others circulated a TikTok video that asks whether voters “excuse her capitalist, imperialist, anti-working-class agenda because she’s a woman.”
Among the biggest criticisms of Warren’s new plan is that it’s a copy of the plan proposed by South Bend, Indiana Mayor Buttigieg, which he calls “Medicare for All who want it,” and which banks on implementing a robust public healthcare option that allows private insurers to remain in business.
Warren has long struggled to sell her commitment to Medicare for All. More moderate candidates have argued that the plan is too unrealistic and polarizing; leftists, meanwhile, have criticized Warren for failing to embrace the proposal as fully as her opponent, democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Warren hasn’t helped herself on the latter point. For many months, she refused to answer whether she would support an increase in payroll taxes to fund the plan — a fact that candidates like Buttigieg used to hammer her on the campaign trail.
During October’s debate for Democratic primary candidates, Buttigieg blasted Warren’s evasion, quipping, “Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything — except this."
Warren later announced she would propose hiking taxes on billionaires and business owners to pay for her single-payer plan.
Sanders, Warren’s closest analog in the race, has shied away from criticizing Warren on the campaign trail.
But on Friday afternoon, shortly after Warren made her announcement, he took a subtle jab at her.
“In my first week as president, we will introduce Medicare for All legislation,” he tweeted.
Cover: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to members of SEA/SEIU Local 1984, state employees, at the Holiday Inn in Concord New Hampshire, after signing papers to officially enter the New Hampshire Primary race on November 13, 2019. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)