Who's More Left?: 4 Key Differences Between Bernie and Warren

It's the Bernie vs. Warren question.
It's the Bernie vs. Warren question.

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Just a few years ago, the composition of the 2020 presidential field would have seemed impossible: There’s not one but two viable Democratic candidates with policy ideas that court the left, instead of center-liberals.

The Bernie vs. Warren narrative has captured the attention of young voters and the Democratic party’s more progressive wing. Will voters back Bernie Sanders, who’s running again after mounting a shockingly successful insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton, or his Senate colleague, Elizabeth Warren, who’s surging in the 2020 polls after unleashing a slew of detailed policy proposals.


Both Bernie and Warren have expressed reluctance over pitting themselves against each other. But elections are a contest, after all, and Bernie appears to be feeling the heat. On Tuesday, Warren came out with a big lead (more than 20 points ahead of Bernie) in a MoveOn poll.

Last week, the Vermont Senator tweeted an implicit attack against Warren when he identified himself as the only non-corporate Democrat, though he’s denied the tweet was about his colleague. Bernie’s so far responded to Warren’s “I have a plan” strategy by leaning hard into calling himself a democratic socialist who has the better chance of defeating President Trump. Warren, meanwhile, is a proud capitalist who believes in markets.

The competition between the two, who call each other friends, has resulted in an unusual surfeit of progressive ideas for voters to mull over as they pick their party’s 2020 candidate. While the two leftist candidates have similar ideas, their proposals to accomplish them have some key differences.

College debt

Bernie introduced a bill Monday in the Senate that calls for total student debt cancellation in the United States. It’s the most radical plan yet to address the student debt crisis and one-ups Warren’s version: Her proposal calls for a maximum of $50,000 in debt cancellation for people with student loans.

It’s worth noting that Warren is not a co-sponsor of Bernie’s bill, but Sanders isn’t rallying for total debt cancellation alone: Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal are co-authors of Bernie’s bill and introduced it in the House.


Under Warren’s plan, the amount of debt cancellation also staggers as people earn more money. For every $3 people earn beyond the $100,000 threshold, they lose $1 of the $50,000 in debt forgiven. To put it more simply: If someone makes $100,003, just $49,999 of their debt will be canceled. Nobody in a household making above $250,000 a year will get student-debt relief.

Both candidates support free undergraduate tuition at public universities.

Taxing the wealthy

Bernie and Warren have both made a name for themselves as the chief nemeses of Wall Street and big banks on Capitol Hill. Both, of course, support aggressive taxation on the nation’s wealthiest people and frequently cite it as a method for paying for their ambitious policy ideas.

As usual, Warren has a bit more detail on how she would do that. One of her first major policy proposals was the idea for a yearly wealth tax on America’s “ultra-millionaires.” People worth more than $50 million can expect a 2% tax on their wealth, and billionaires will be subject to a 3% tax. Based on Warren’s projections, that would raise about $2.75 trillion over 10 years from just 0.1% of U.S. households.

Bernie hasn’t expressly come out in favor of Warren’s proposal, but it’s hard to picture a planet on which Sen. Sanders wouldn’t be thrilled about a 3% billionaire wealth tax.

"This wealth and income inequality is not only unjust and unfair, the truth is it is a real threat to our economy and to our democracy," Sanders recently said.


But Bernie also has offered his own ideas for taxes on the wealthy. For example, Bernie wants to pay for his student debt cancellation plans by directly taxing Wall Street: 0.5% on stock transactions and a 0.1% on bonds.

Universal healthcare

Healthcare is Bernie’s signature issue. He has long fought for the implementation of Medicare for All in the United States, which would institute mandatory, government-run healthcare for all citizens. His plan would functionally eliminate the private-insurance industry by outlawing private insurers from covering services that Medicare for All covers, which is pretty much everything.

While Warren is a co-sponsor on Bernie’s bill, she is noticeably more tepid on the issue of healthcare reform. She has said that she supports different ways to get to universal healthcare in the United States, which could be in the form of allowing people to use a “private option” — which should make insurance companies much more friendly to Warren than Bernie.

“I’ve signed onto Medicare for All,” Warren said this year of universal healthcare. “There are different ways we can get there.”

On top of that, Warren has a lot of plans on her campaign website, but she does not have one for universal healthcare. That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by her left-leaning critics. She does, however, have more-detailed, smaller plans on the opioid crisis and maternal mortality.

Climate change

Climate change has taken center stage in the 2020 primaries, and for good reason: Scientists estimate that in little more than a decade the climate crisis will become irreversible and result in global catastrophe.

Both Bernie and Warren support the idea of Green New Deal, which calls for the radical restructuring of the U.S. economy to invest in green jobs and infrastructure in response to the climate crisis. But at this point, the Green New Deal is still relatively undefined and candidates’ support could really mean anything. (The closest thing there is to federal legislation is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution calling for support of a Green New Deal.)


The key difference: While Bernie has spoken in mostly broad strokes about the climate crisis, Warren has put out some policy papers that start to poke at how she would address climate change as president of the United States. She’s calling for a $2 trillion investment in the next decade in green research and manufacturing. The plan has three main legs:

• Green Apollo Program: The federal government will invest $400 billion in clean energy research in development in the next 10 years, a more than tenfold increase.

• Green Industrial Mobilization: Warren wants to pour $1.5 trillion into the federal procurement process — basically how the government buys the goods and services it needs — to spur U.S. development of green technology and products that the government will use. (Warren contrasts that idea with the U.S.’s current plan to spend a “bloated” $1.5 trillion on defense in the next decade.)

• Green Marshall Plan: Warren wants to create another new federal office that's entirely dedicated to selling U.S. renewable and emission-free products abroad and allotting $100 billion to help foreign countries implement U.S. green tech.

Warren also weathered some criticism from the left over a plan that called for green military technology. Her plan also set a deadline of 2030 for the Pentagon to achieve net-zero emissions for all of its non-combat bases.

Cover image: Bernie Sanders, left (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)) and Elizabeth Warren, right (Photo by Michael Nigro/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)