Elizabeth Warren’s Number-Crunchers Out of Sync With Her on Some Big Plans

(Bloomberg) --

Elizabeth Warren is careful to cite economic experts to back up the costs of her multi-trillion-dollar policy plans. But even those experts disagree among themselves about how or whether those plans will work.

University of California Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman advised Warren on her wealth tax and say she could raise $2.75 trillion over a decade by imposing a 2% tax on wealth worth $50 million or more, going up to 3% for wealth of more than $1 billion.

Elizabeth Warren’s Number-Crunchers Out of Sync With Her on Some Big Plans

But Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics who Warren’s campaign asked to review her separate Medicare-for-All funding plan, which includes an additional 3% tax on wealth over $1 billion among other levies, is skeptical it would bring in that much money.

On health care, Zandi has projected that Warren could raise the $20.5 trillion she estimates it will cost to give everyone free health-care without any new middle-class taxes, even though he disagrees with her vision. Saez and Zucman support her policy in general but their funding approach does raise taxes on the middle class.

The disagreements among those who helped shape and gauge her policies highlight the challenges for Warren as she tries to convince voters that she can generate enough revenue to provide free health care, free public college, universal child care, forgive a portion of student loans and mitigate climate change, among other ambitious policies.

Saez said in an email that Warren’s health care numbers are “reasonable” — with a caveat.

“Scoring is not a hard science, and much will depend on the quality of enforcement. Her numbers assume that enforcement will be excellent,” he said. “We believe this is possible but it will require a big and successful push (a big policy change in and by itself).”

Zandi said the Warren wealth tax will be difficult to enforce, with billionaires likely to use multiple loopholes to avoid it. Several European countries experienced this issue when implementing their own tax programs. Warren has said she would empower the Internal Revenue Service enforce collection, a promise made by many presidential candidates over the years.

Elizabeth Warren’s Number-Crunchers Out of Sync With Her on Some Big Plans

“When considering all of Warren’s policy proposals, which includes a number of different tax increases on the wealthy, tax avoidance may be higher than she is assuming. But this doesn’t mean Medicare-for-All or any of other plans won’t be paid for,” Zandi said in an email.

Warren’s plan to pay for her Medicare-for-All proposal, which she released this month under pressure from rivals, increases her wealth tax and is predicated on avoiding any tax increases on the middle class in the hope of avoiding the political blowback such a move would likely bring.

Under Medicare for All, 98% of the money companies now pay for employees’ health care would be shifted to the government instead.

But Saez and Zucman, who priced out Warren’s tax plan, have floated a different way to pay for Medicare-for-All — a progressive tax that may hit some in the middle class, but would compensate by requiring companies to put the money they would have provided to their employees’ health care into higher paychecks.

Saez said Warren’s employer tax “is a tax on the middle class as economists pretty much all believe that such taxes are effectively borne by workers.” But he said workers are already bearing that cost. “Hence, if you count existing premiums as a pre-existing tax, the Warren plan effectively does not ‘increase’ taxes on the middle class.”

A campaign aide said that Zandi was only scoring her health care plan, while Saez and Zucman were advising her on the wealth tax. Warren tweeted Wednesday, “I knew Mark Zandi was skeptical, so I had him check the numbers on my plan to pay for #MedicareForAll. He confirmed they add up.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, who wrote the Medicare-for-All bill that Warren campaigns on, has released his own suggestions for how to fund it. His ideas include a more aggressive wealth tax than Warren’s, and a 4% payroll tax which would hit many Americans though overall they would pay lower costs because of health care savings. He has acknowledged the middle-class would pay more in taxes.

Overall, Zandi backs up Warren’s health care math. He said in the email that Warren can finance her plan without raising taxes on the middle class, even though he doesn’t agree with the policy. And even if the rich don’t pay their fair share, she could find those funds elsewhere.

“Warren’s Medicare for All plan isn’t the only way to provide health insurance to all Americans, rein in growing health care costs and improve health care outcomes,” Zandi wrote in a CNN op-ed that was published on Wednesday. “A more tractable approach in my view is to allow those who like their private health insurance to keep it and to build on Obamacare by giving everyone else an option to get Medicare.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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