Sen. Elizabeth Warren Dismisses Idea That Her Policies Lean Too Far Left For Moderate Voters

Nov 1, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on The Exchange Candidate Forum, a collaboration between NHPR and New Hampshire PBS.
Credit Dan Tuohy/NHPR

Senator Elizabeth Warren has called herself “a capitalist to the bones” and sees no contradiction between that description and her plans for expanding government, raising taxes and increasing regulation. 

“Without rules, capitalism is theft. So for me, it's about making sure we have a set of rules so that you really get competition so that nobody gets cheated, so that everybody has an opportunity,” she said during an Exchange 2020 Forum. 

“Those are the functions of government -- to help keep the system working in a way that opens up more opportunity for small businesses, opens up opportunity for individuals, opens up opportunities so we can have that competition and create all kinds of new things."

(To hear or watch the full conversation, visit here.  In addition to economic issues, Warren addressed climate change, foreign policy,  education, and voting security.  Interview excerpts have been edited slightly for clarity.)

Warren insists the notion of fairness -- and her policies to achieve it -- appeals to voters of all persuasions. "The idea that this country is working great for the rich and powerful and not for anybody else, working great for giant drug companies but not for people who are trying to get a prescription filled, working great for oil companies that want to drill everywhere but not for the rest of us who see climate change bearing down upon us -- it's not just Democrats who see that; it's Democrats and Republicans who see it."

Warren’s plans for universal childcare and wiping out student debt – to name just a few -- rely on a wealth tax of 2 % on what she calls ultra-millionaires.  “It’s about accumulated wealth,” she said, the kind of financial assets that can evade taxation.  “It includes the stock portfolio, the diamonds, the Rembrandt, and the yacht.”

Asked how she'd respond to those who liken this approach to "socialism,"  Warren had one word: "Nonsense."

As for cutting government spending to help pay for her plans, Warren briefly mentioned one possibility -- funding for overseas contingency operations in the Department of Defense budget – before quickly getting back to her 2 percent wealth tax.  

She estimates her tax plan will bring in almost $3 trillion over ten years and help pay for the programs that she believes will reduce economic inequality. “I've spent my life fighting for families who are on the edge of going broke, and we need to change that in this country.”

A recent New York Times report raises questions about some periods of Warren's legal career about 20 years ago while she was on the faculty of Harvard, finding that she sometimes worked on behalf of large corporations.  

But Warren would eventually take on the mantle of consumer advocate, spearheading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog agency charged with regulating mortgages and other financial products.  Rebuilding the middle class is a major part of her platform as she seeks the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. 

Warren says health care costs have brought many people to the brink of bankruptcy -- a key reason she supports Medicare for All.  She had taken some heat for avoiding answering whether she would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for the program.   Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has admitted that he would do so but has said that costs for premiums and copays would go down, making up for that increase.

Warren said on The Exchange forum that she would soon be realeasing her plan on paying for Medicare for All. She has since done so. As The New York Times reports, her plan would not raise taxes on the middle class but would impose huge tax increases on businesses and billionaires.

Warren hinted at this during the forum: “We know that Medicare for All is the cheapest way to provide health care coverage for everyone. So we can pay for this. We will see most likely rich people's costs go up, corporations costs go up, but the costs to middle class families will go down.  I will not sign any legislation into law for which costs for middle class families do not go down.”

By some estimates, establishing Medicare for All would mean the elimination of millions of insurance industry jobs. Warren acknowledged that a transition would be necessary under her plan, but offered no details on how she'd deal with any loss of jobs, instead launching into a critique of the insurance business.

“I think [loss of jobs] is part of the cost issue and should be part of a cost plan,” she said. “But do recognize how much of our health care dollars has not gone into health care, how much has been pulled in different directions – that system made $23 billion in profits last year, and that’s after all of the executive salaries, all of the administrative people, all the fancy glass office buildings they built.”