Back in July, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked how she would pay for her Democratic Socialist agenda and she failed to offer a convincing answer. That question from Daily Show host Trevor Noah probably wasn’t meant to be a gotcha, but it has turned into a kind of Democratic Socialist kryptonite from which Ocasio-Cortez has never quite recovered. Since July, she has been asked the same question several more times and each time her answer becomes vaguer and less convincing. She has stopped even trying to talk about math and instead wants to talk about moral priorities.
Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez appeared on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper for an interview on several topics. In the midst of the interview, Tapper pointed out that various estimates of her policy proposals suggest it would cost $40 trillion over ten years. “You recently said in an interview that increasing taxes on the very wealthy plus and increased corporate tax rate would make $2 trillion dollars over the next ten years,” Tapper said. Then he brought out the kryptonite: “So where is the other $38 trillion dollars going to come from?”
Ocasio-Cortez claimed Medicare-for-All “would save the American people a very large amount of money.” She claimed her proposals weren’t just “pie in the sky.”
The claim that Medicare-for-All (or some other flavor of single-payer) would save Americans a lot of money made the rounds recently in response to a working paper by Charles Blahous of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Blahous looked at the assumptions in Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan and concluded it would reduce health expenditures by $2 trillion over 10 years. Bernie Sanders and other supporters of his plan sarcastically thanked the Koch Brothers for proving that their plan would save money (the Koch brothers donate some money to the Mercatus Center). And that’s probably what Ocasio-Cortez is referring to in this interview.
However, Blahous pointed out that the whole point of his paper was that those assumptions made in the Sanders plan, especially the substantial cuts to medical providers, are unlikely to happen. And if you run the numbers without those cuts, you get a very different result. From the Washington Post:
In the fourth sentence of the report’s abstract, Blahous wrote, “It is likely that the actual cost of M4A would be substantially greater than these estimates, which assume significant administrative and drug cost savings under the plan, and also assume that healthcare providers operating under M4A will be reimbursed at rates more than 40 percent lower than those currently paid by private health insurance.”
Under an alternative scenario, which assumes these cuts cannot be achieved, national health spending rises even faster than under current law because health-care demand would increase.
The Post’s fact-checker ultimately gave the claim that Medicare-for-All would save Americans money three Pinocchios. Simply put, those savings are not likely to ever happen, not unless we’re prepared to cut salaries for doctors by a substantial amount (up to 40%).
Tapper, to his credit, knew she hadn’t answered the question and asked it again: Where will the rest of the money come from to pay for all of this? And again, Ocasio-Cortez didn’t have an answer that was even superficially plausible.
The saving grace for Ocasio-Cortez is that, as non-responsive as her answer about funder her agenda was, it was still better than the halting, awkward word-salad that followed when she was asked how to handle the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. Here’s the clip queued up to the question about paying for agenda.