Elizabeth Warren Talks About Her Plans, Less About the Costs

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou

(Bloomberg) -- In a single speech in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park on Monday, Elizabeth Warren pulled all of her sweeping policy proposals into a unified vision for fundamentally restructuring American life from cradle to grave.

But with the exception of her plan for a 2% tax on assets above $50 million, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate once again offered no details on how she would pay for her agenda, though her campaign later said that she has laid out a cost for each plan.

“I know what’s broken, I’ve got a plan to fix it and that’s why I’m running for president of the United States,” Warren said to a large crowd as she stood beneath the Washington Square Arch. “I’ve got a lot of plans, but they all come back to one simple idea: put economic and political power back in the hands of the people. We start by rooting out corruption in government. No more business-as-usual.”

The speech was a compendium of her greatest hits. Her ideas on health care, climate change, gun control, college debt and helping the middle class were packaged within an overarching message that corporate and government corruption are breaking America’s democracy.

Standing a little more than 2 miles from Wall Street, Warren repeated her plan to make the rich carry the burden through a wealth tax that has become a centerpiece of her campaign.

She has promised that a 2% tax on assets worth more than $50 million and of 3% on assets worth more than $1 billion would be enough to finance sweeping programs including universal child care, universal pre-K, tuition-free college and student debt cancellation.

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, two economists who have worked with the candidate, estimate that her wealth tax would raise about $2.75 trillion over a decade. Additionally, a Warren administration would have to raise money to pay the estimated $30 trillion price tag for Medicare For All over 10 years and the $3 trillion she’s proposed as part of her plan to combat climate change.

And critics of her plan say her estimates are overly rosy because wealthy people would find ways to avoid paying some of the tax.

Warren has drawn criticism for her lack of specificity. At the Democratic presidential debate last week in Houston, front-runner Joe Biden challenged her to say how she would pay for her health care plan. She avoided a direct answer and fell back on her aim to soak the rich.

“How do we pay for it? We pay for it, those at the very top, the richest individuals and the biggest corporations, are going to pay more. And middle class families are going to pay less,” she said. “That’s how this is going to work.”

She offered no greater detail at the rally in Greenwich Village.

“We’re the wealthiest nation in the history of the world -- we can afford Medicare for All to save our people and a Green New Deal to save our planet,” she said. “We just need real investments in working people.”

On Monday, Warren’s wealth tax was welcomed with loud cheers. “We’re saying that if you make it really, really, really big, bigger than $50 million, then pitch in two cents so everyone else can have a chance,” Warren said. Her explanation of how America’s wealthiest would chip in to fund her plans was followed by a crowd chant of “2 cents! 2 cents!”

Most of her proposals would be paid for by the wealth tax, according to her campaign.

Her Social Security plan would impose a 14.8% tax on annual earnings above $250,000 (or $400,000 for joint filers), split evenly between employers and employees. It would impose a separate 14.8% tax on investment income.

A $500 billion affordable housing plan would be paid for by raising the estate tax. A Warren administration would raise $2 trillion for a Green Manufacturing plan with a corporate profits tax and $1 trillion over 10 years for 100% Clean Energy plan by reversing Trump tax cuts on the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations.

Her detailed proposals for recasting the economy have garnered support from a base of voters. Laying out an influential message and a clear vision may be enough for now to maintain Warren’s steady rise in the polls, said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

“If you’re Elizabeth Warren, you now have enough equity in the bank with voters so she can afford to be less forthcoming with some of those details,” Payne said.

(Adds Warren quote in 13th pargraph. A previous version of this article corrected amount of money that would trigger 3% asset tax, in sixth paragraph; and clarified that housing plan would be paid with estate tax in 17th paragraph.)

--With assistance from Laura Davison and Sahil Kapur.

To contact the reporter on this story: Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou in New York at megkolfopoul@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Max Berley, John Harney

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