Host Phan challenges the dominant narrative of Warren as a champion of “accountable capitalism.” For those craving real change in 2020, that might not be enough.
Some topics are hard to discuss: racism, sexual violence, immigration reform, slavery, gun control. Rarely do we realize that the accepted narratives come from our oppressors, who wield the power and money to have their POV dominate our thoughts. But not for educator and organizer Phan.
Plan A Magazine is proud to present Phan’s podcast, Pod of Most Resistance, Challenging Dominant Narratives One Episode At A Time. Join Phan as she tackles the most perverse misconceptions and skewed narratives within contemporary politics and tells the story of America from the side of resistance.
The following transcript comes from the show Pod of Most Resistance, episode “I Will Not Vote for Elizabeth Warren, Part 1.” It has been edited for length and clarity. Changes have also been made to reflect news updates since the release of this episode. Part 1 focuses on the policy differences between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Elizabeth Warren, a true believer of capitalism, has given hope to those who are tired of increasing political polarization and answers the call of voters who want radical reform, without the radical labels. She gives fiery performances on the debate stage, and has shown to be as articulate as Bernie Sanders when defending progressive policy ideas and voicing the frustrations of the restless.
Sanders and Warren are virtually on par with each other on a number of important issues like LGBTQ rights, gun control, voter protections, and criminal justice reform. The areas where I think Warren outshines Bernie are ending the filibuster and universal childcare. When it comes to major domestic policies that directly affect Americans’ lives, however, Bernie Sanders pretty much has her beat. Part 1 will compare these candidates’ plans on healthcare, education, housing, and workers’ rights. They also have vastly different plans on climate action, but you can get more detailed information on that in a previous episode.
Universal healthcare has been Sanders’ signature issue for the last two election cycles, especially since he “wrote the damn bill.” His Medicare for All proposal would basically eliminate premiums, deductibles, copays, and anxieties wrangling with insurance companies. People won’t have to worry about losing their health coverage when changing jobs or starting their own business. All healthcare providers would be covered under Medicare for All which means anyone who wants to keep their doctors, can. Anyone who doesn’t, can easily find a new one. Medicare for All is estimated to save the U.S. just over $2 trillion over the course of 10 years.
One important detail of the bill that all voters should know in order to distinguish Sanders over other candidates is Section 107, aka the duplicative care clause. It makes it illegal for “a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.” This is to prevent practitioners who aren’t satisfied with pricing under Medicare from accepting only private health insurance and forcing patients to pay out of pocket for services they can get virtually anywhere else for free. Banning private health insurance and any mechanisms for pricing discrimination is necessary to create an equitable system, where no amount of money will make anyone more deserving of faster or better care.
Aggregate polling has shown that the majority of all voters support Medicare expansion, which stands in stark contrast to the predominantly negative attention it’s gotten on mainstream news. The mixed messaging around single payer has inspired Morning Consult to study how voter support for Medicare for All varies depending on how the question is phrased. Not surprisingly, the plan received the most support when the most complete set of information was presented to people. Like many things about Sanders, his message about Medicare for All has been consistent and unwavering, which makes him the foremost leader on this issue while others have dithered.
If you have been following Warren’s campaign or at least watched the televised debates, she has made it clear to voters that she supports Medicare for All, but that’s only been a recent change of heart. “Like some presidential candidates who have co-sponsored Sanders’ legislation, she’s also signed onto other Senate bills this year that would more incrementally expand coverage. As recently as late May, she told reporters that she supported ‘multiple approaches’ to expanding coverage and if elected would ‘pull everyone to the table’ to craft a health care plan,” writes Politico.
Warren may have supported Bernie’s bill in the Senate, but so has Sen. Kamala Harris whose platform is even less progressive. Sen. Harris’s own version of Medicare for All doesn’t abolish private health insurance and expands Medicare Advantage but not Medicare, which are two different things. It also has a ten-year phase in period which drew ire from voters because it reflects an attitude of foot dragging and makes the plan more vulnerable to failure. Voters must beware that the phrase “Medicare for All” may not actually be invoked with its original meaning and that it’s been hijacked by other candidates whose plans are nothing like that of Sanders who popularized the idea to begin with.
Rather than adopt Sanders’ bill as part of her own platform, Warren has released a Medicare buy-in plan that has been criticized by both the left (for intentionally dividing the Medicare for All movement and making early concessions) and right (for being a socialist takeover). In addition to that, Warren isn’t going toe-to-toe with Bernie for cancelling all medical debt. When it comes to healthcare, the devil is truly in the details, and people like Warren are only confusing voters into thinking that any plan would be as good as Sanders’ if we just slapped the Medicare for All label on it.
Education and student debt
Both Warren and Sanders promise to make 4-year and 2-year college free. Bernie’s College For All Plan includes trade schools whereas Warren’s does not, but Warren is also seeking to eventually ban federal funding to for-profit schools. Additionally, they’ve joined the ranks of other candidates to provide extra support to Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs, and Minority-Serving Institutions or MSIs.
Fun fact, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, or AANAPISIs, are a special designation under the umbrella of MSIs. It’s not a term as well known as HBCUs, and it shatters the myth that Asians and Pacific Islanders don’t need government assistance.
Warren’s plan will set a minimum budget of $50 billion for HBCUs and MSIs over the course of ten years. Sanders’ plan would give $13 billion to these institutions. This may seem like a substantially lower amount because that’s not also counting Sanders’ Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, which aims to eliminate systemic racial inequalities that persist in grades K-12 and end the school-to-prison pipeline. Here are a few details to the Marshall Plan:
- Triple Title I funding and ensure equitable funding to rural and indigenous communities
- Expand teacher-training programs at HBCUs, MSIs, and tribal colleges and universities
- Fully fund the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights
- Withhold funding from charter schools until they’ve been fully audited
- Establish a national per-pupil spending floor
- Provide year-round, free universal school meals
- Mandate that the federal government provides at least 50% of the funding for special education
- Start all teachers’ salaries at $60,000 a year
Altogether the Marshall Plan would add at least $50 billion dollars to education per year, more than doubling what we currently spend. This may seem like a lot, until you realize that in 2015 the U.S. spent less than 7% of its federal budget on education.
Now let’s touch on the topic of student loan debt. Warren’s plan caps student loan forgiveness at $50,000 per person if they live in a household that makes less than $100,000, partially forgive student loan debt for people whose household income is under $250,000, and offer no relief for people who make more than that.
On the other hand, Bernie’s plan to cancel all student loan debt has been criticized as going too far because it helps people “don’t need it.” Tamara Hiler, deputy director of education at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank that routinely criticizes progressive politicians, told Insider Higher Ed “We believe that blanket debt forgiveness in general is bad policy that primarily benefits upper middle-class people who attended elite four-year colleges, and does nothing to appeal to the bulk of Americans who don’t have a college degree.”
It’s clear to see how Warren’s plan will mitigate the racial wealth disparity since black graduates are more likely to receive lower pay out of college and default on paying back student loans, but the claim that Bernie’s plan would exacerbate the wealth gap hasn’t yet been studied. The arbitrary qualifications in Warren’s plan may give the impression that it’s more strategic, but it doesn’t acknowledge the political factors that led to this debt crisis. Also, it essentially penalizes students for going into higher paying professions, a choice that’s often made because of the obligation to pay back student loans.
Let’s not forget that many programs are universal and have resulted in a net positive benefit. Just because it benefits both rich and poor people doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be universal. Sanders’ National Press Secretary Briahna Joy Gray discusses exactly this with Dr. Harvey Kaye, a professor of democracy at the University of Wisconsin Green-Bay on Hear the Bern, a podcast produced by the Sanders campaign.
[Dr. Kaye]: American democracy requires extending democracy. I think FDR understood that, I honestly believe that Bernie understands that better than all of the Democratic candidates.
[Joy Gray]: Yeah, I do think that there is a strategic component to these universal programs and being increasingly inclusive in helping broader groups of people that often gets written off as somehow a deficit. They say, “Oh these programs overextend, they cost too much. They are too broad, they help people who aren’t exclusively the most desperate.” Completely ignoring the political shielding that’s built into a program that, because it helps everyone, everyone is invested in it and then they protect those same programs and that is exactly what the strength of programs like Social Security that are broadly popular.
There’s a degree of irony to the praise that predominantly white elites and their equally white media counterparts have given to Warren’s debt cancellation plan despite having the least to benefit from it compared to students from working class backgrounds. Only, it’s not a coincidence because upper middle class white Americans are actually doing just fine and don’t really need help paying off debt. In fact, they derive more social value from aligning themselves with a candidate whose plan panders to their dilettante liberal desires to help “the needy,” over a plan associated with the image of gratuitous socialism.
However, Sanders’ total debt cancellation plan isn’t a tactic to curry favor to non-white or working class voters. It’s a reset button for the American government to recalibrate its moral obligation to Americans and bail them out, just like Wall Street, in times where Congress has failed to prevent a national crisis.
According to a 2019 study conducted by Harvard, almost half of American renters are cost-burdened, meaning they pay between thirty to fifty percent of their income on rent. Residents are calling for radical change. In an exchange between Elizabeth Warren and Tiana Caldwell, a leader in the housing reform movement who was homeless for 6 months because she was forced to choose between paying her rent and paying for her cancer treatment, Warren equivocates on the topic of a federal homes guarantee.
[Caldwell]: I want to get really clear. The reason we need 12 million units of social housing is that there are nearly 12 million people who are currently extremely cost-burdened, spending over 50% of their income on rent. We know it’s going to cost at least $150 billion to reinvest in all existing public housing units. And I can’t live on the whims of private landlords anymore. I need universal rent control. It’s not a homes guarantee until you commit to these big numbers and ideas. Are you ready to do that?
[Warren]: So I’ve got the money to start us on public housing… I also believe when we talk about rent control, that what we have to do, this varies from community to community. What I want to make sure, is no-one can prohibit communities from developing the rent control plans that work for them. Writing a rent control plan in Washington may work for Chicago, but it’s not gonna work for Iowa City or it may not work for Dallas. What I want to see and I have in my plan, is protection so that every community empowers its tenants to be able to write the rent control plan that works for them.
People were extremely unhappy with Warren’s answer because states and cities simply aren’t going to take it upon themselves to enact radical housing reform nor can we trust that the markets will regulate rent prices. Behind the show of fake concern for each city’s distinct needs was a casual dismissal of the president’s obligation to help working class Americans get a foothold. An independent analysis of Warrens plan’s states, “If this legislation is signed into law soon, it will at the very least ensure that the current crisis in affordable housing does not get worse.” At best, it will lower rent prices by ten percent after ten years. In other words, Warren doesn’t have a plan to fix the housing crisis. She only has a plan to not make it worse.
There’s no way to follow up on this other than to share with you just a sliver of details to Bernie Sanders’ Housing for All Plan:
- Invest almost $1.5 trillion toward the creation of over 7 million quality, affordable and accessible housing units
- Invest $400 billion to build mixed-income social housing units, which will help integrate communities
- Increase funding for the Indian Housing Block Grant to $3 billion
- Fully fund tenant-based Section 8 rental assistance
- Enact a national cap on annual rent increases and allow states to pass even stronger rent control
- Provide a right to counsel for persons in eviction or foreclosure proceedings
- Protect homeowners from predatory lending and mortgage fraud
- End homelessness
- Pass the Equality Act to include LGBTQ Americans in the Fair Housing Act
The reason why protecting LGBTQ rights to housing has particular relevance is because the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson recently denigrated trans people, saying something to the effect of “big, hairy men” attempting to sneak into women’s homeless shelters, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The most stunning thing about this story isn’t Carson’s track record of anti-LGBTQ comments or his profound lack of qualifications for being the HUD secretary. It’s that Elizabeth Warren almost voted in favor of his appointment back in 2017. Before she flipped her vote, Warren released this statement on Facebook:
“He made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws. Promises that — if they’re honored — would help a lot of working families. Can we count on Dr. Carson to keep those promises? I don’t know. People are right to be skeptical; I am. But a man who makes written promises gives us a toehold on accountability.”
Since taking office, Ben Carson rejected California’s request for more assistance to mitigate homelessness as recently as this month and instead blamed California for not using more police force and allowing “illegal and inadmissible aliens” into their state and has rolled back an Obama-era rule to combat segregation.
There’s really no comparison between Sanders and Warren when it comes to housing reform. Warren plan’s addresses some of the barriers to housing discrimination and lending, but doesn’t address the root cause of the problem: wealth inequality, rising rent prices, and lack of quality public housing. In fact, Warren even attributed the housing crisis to “a basic supply-and-demand problem,” as if runaway capitalism has played no role in eviscerating working class stability. To further rub salt into the wound, Warren pledges to spend $4 billion towards building affordable apartments just for the middle class, without even taking further consideration for the working class Americans who will still be struggling under her plan.
In the worst case scenario, Warren’s equivocating signals a willful negligence to price out millions of Americans from their homes, given not-so-publicized history of being house flipper and that one-third of her wealth comes from real estate. At best, she carries a foolish level of optimism corporations with profit motives will do the right thing, a pattern that carries over to another crucial issue for Americans: workers’ rights.
In 2016, Bernie’s presidential campaign staff was the first presidential campaign to unionize in U.S. history. Sanders has a long pro-union track record, which is why his Workplace Democracy Plan is all about supporting unions. The Economic Policy Institute found that “declining unionization has fueled rising inequality and stalled economic progress for the broad American middle class… As an economic sector becomes more unionized, nonunion employers pay more to retain qualified workers and norms of higher pay and better conditions become standard.
For example, if a union hospital is across town from a nonunion hospital and the two hospitals are competing for workers, then the nonunion workers will benefit from the presence of the union hospital.” In other words, when unions do well, so do the rest of us. When they’re weak, profits gets distributed to the highest wage earners first before the lowest. Sanders’ plan aims to double union membership in four years by implementing the following ideas:
- Make it easier for employees to form unions through majority sign up instead of a lengthy election process
- Require that employers establish a “just cause” for termination
- End misclassification of workers as independent contractors
- Ban strikebreakers and protect pensions
- Stop corporations from forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings
- Deny federal contracts to companies that pay below $15 an hour, outsource jobs overseas, engage in union busting, deny good benefits, and give outrageous executive compensation packages
- Direct resulting healthcare savings under Medicare for All to raising wages and improving benefits
Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Plan is the most revolutionary ever proposed by a presidential candidate and has its roots in Dr. King’s own advocacy work. Here’s some context to the plan’s inspiration when Sanders was interviewed by rapper Killer Mike.
[Sanders]: At the end of his life, not only did Dr. King get murdered in Memphis where he was not on a ‘Civil Rights effort,’ he was standing with some of the most exploited black workers in America. And he said, “I’m gonna go down there and help you form a union and get decent wages and decent working conditions.” That’s when he was murdered.
And at that same time what he was also doing was trying to put together a Poor People’s Campaign bringing together blacks and poor whites, the Native Americans and Latinos, saying “You know what, we have got to march on Washington, we have to encamp ourselves in Washington, we have to demand a fundamental change in national priorities instead of continuing spending billions of dollars on a war in Vietnam, then. We got to invest in housing and health care, in the needs of poor people and working people.”
What a profound, think about it for a second, what a profound and revolutionary concept that was. And that is the moment that he was killed.
As for Warren, she’s shown her support of unions by joining the United Automobile Workers in the picket lines in September when an agreement with General Motors for raising wages couldn’t be reached. Warren has a page for labor reform on her website, but currently no specific policy ideas. The next closest plan Warren has is the Accountable Capitalism Act which includes the following:
- Require federal charters for all corporations with more than $1 billion in annual income, which would give the federal government more power to regulate
- Prohibit company directors from selling shares within five years of receiving them or within three years of a company stock buyback.
- Require big corporations receive an approval of 75% before engaging in any political spending. However, companies have been able to sidestep limitations on corporate spending through political action committees, so this provision is essentially useless
- Empower workers at big corporations to elect no less than 40% of the company’s board.
Jacobin, a leading voice of American socialism, calls this last provision, also called co-determination, “incongruously grandiose” because without it, Warren doesn’t have a plan for protecting worker’s rights. Giving players a penalty shot is one thing, but letting them rewrite the rules of the game is something else entirely, which is why this provision will likely fail should it get introduced in Congress under a Warren presidency, but has a chance under Sanders (read Part 2 to know why).
The prevailing theme in Warren’s plans is the reliance on large corporations to simply obey the law, forfeit their profits, and assume the social responsibilities that have been unduly unloaded onto an entire generation of Americans. In contrast to Sanders’ easy-to-understand policy details, Warren’s plans are often couched in a frustrating amount of flowery language about how she’ll fight for us, which raises red flags. Why was so much effort put into convincing us to believe when she could have just outlined her ideas in a bulleted list? It could be a product of Warren’s personality and experience as an academic, but it could also be a distraction, plain and simple.
Warren’s politics aren’t just flawed — they’re corrupted, and that’s what makes her different from Sanders.
The day after releasing her plan to regulate corporate influence on Washington, her campaign hired a lobbyist from Planned Parenthood, which has come out against single-payer healthcare aka Medicare for All. I don’t have any objection for Warren’s choice to identify as a capitalist to her bones, but her choice to protect the interests that have created an economic system where a nonprofit for women’s reproductive health is able to make $50 million in profit is exactly the reason why die-hard capitalism has no place in the White House.
Correction: The original transcript stated that Planned Parenthood lobbied against single-payer rather than opposed and has since been corrected.