What Does David Dayen Think a Middle Class Tax Is?
Like a lot of journalists last week, David Dayen wrote up Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All (M4A) financing plan with the talking points she sent out about it. In his piece “Warren’s Medicare for All Plan Includes No New Taxes on the Middle Class,” he writes that:
The financing pays for a universal single-payer system without new taxes on the middle class.
What was so confusing about this claim is that Warren’s plan does, in the usual way people talk about it, implement new taxes on the middle class. Specifically, after bringing in existing government spending and applying a few rich-people taxes, Warren gets the remainder of her funding ($8.8 trillion) from an indirect middle class head tax that she calls the “Employer Medicare Contribution.”
When I pressed Dayen to explain why he said this head tax is not a new middle class tax, he says it is because Warren’s head tax replaces even-higher health premiums that are paid in the status quo, and that we should understand those premiums as a tax.
If you want to call existing premiums taxes, that’s perfectly fine to me. And if you want to say that replacing these “premium taxes” with a lower “head tax” means there is not a net new middle class tax, that is also fine.
But if this is the argument you are going to make, then you have to say that every M4A funding proposal that has ever existed does not impose new taxes on the middle class. Warren’s proposal is no different from Bernie’s proposal or any of the organizational proposals that have come out on this. They all bring in existing government spending, apply some rich-people taxes, and then get the rest of the money by replacing the current premiums and out-of-pocket spending of the middle class with new, but lower, taxes.
Yet when you look at Dayen’s prior pieces on this subject, he did not take this position about the linguistics of M4A financing until Warren’s plan was released. Just ten days before publishing his piece about Warren, Dayen wrote this about Bernie Sanders’s proposal:
But [Sanders’s proposal] does include an income-based premium that would replace insurance premiums and co-pays with middle-class taxes.
So when Warren replaces premiums with a head tax, this is not a middle class tax hike. But when Sanders replaces premiums with an income tax (which is much more progressive than a head tax), it is a middle class tax hike. How can this possibly be?
In Dayen’s case, the most likely explanation is just that, because he wants Elizabeth Warren to win the Democratic nomination, he covers her more favorably than other candidates. Most journalists are guilty of this, though some manage to keep it together and avoid contradiction, while Dayen does not.
But Dayen is not the only one guilty of this contradiction here. Most of the media seems to have taken the bait and, after decades of declaring that every proposal to use income and payroll taxes to replace premiums and cost-sharing “raises middle class taxes,” suddenly turned around and said that you if you use more regressive head taxes instead, it somehow doesn’t raise middle class taxes.
This is pure insanity and it makes me worry about the future of M4A financing proposals, which are apparently in the process of being rhetorically hemmed into committing to the most regressive possible payfor by dimwitted and biased media personalities.