Americans who tuned in to the Obamacare debate on CNN featuring Sens. Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz were treated to an increasingly rare spectacle: a civil, substantive debate. The senators were kind to each other and even occasionally found common ground. Still, the line in the sand was clear: Cruz, a conservative, is staunchly opposed to government healthcare, and Sanders is for it.
Nevertheless, neither debater offered a robust defense of Obamacare, the status quo. Sanders, who voted for the legislation, could only occasionally provide weak support for a mandate here and there. Most of his points focused on his vision for the healthcare system, which is neither Obamacare nor a conservative replacement, but “Medicare for all,” his euphemism for universal government-run healthcare.
Credit where credit is due: Sanders is an honest, consistent Democrat (even if he is dead wrong on occasion — as was the case when he charged that the United States has high infant mortality rates). Sanders admitted, in so many words, that he wants to see a public option added to Obamacare with the intention of transitioning to the public-option-as-only-option, also known as “single payer.” This is more transparency than you’ll get from most Democrats.
The few times Sanders tried to defend Obamacare were his weakest moments in the debate. Cruz did well to extol the virtues of choice and freedom (as he usually does), but Sanders faced his fiercest opponent in an audience member and small business owner named LaRonda.
LaRonda, with a simple and practical question, took Obamacare down.
“My question is, how do I [provide health insurance to my workers] without raising my prices to my customers or lowering my wages?” she asked.
LaRonda owns five hair salons in Fort Worth, Texas. She employs almost 50 people, but can’t hire more or else she would trigger Obamacare’s employer mandate, the requirement that employers provide government-approved (read: expensive) health insurance for their workers. This is obviously a huge business expense, especially for small businesses like LaRonda’s.
Sanders’ response stunk. He basically told LaRonda that he believed she should be providing health insurance benefits. He admitted he did not know a lot about the business of dressing hair, jokingly referencing his own white and messy coiffure, but what he really could have been saying was, “I don’t know anything about business.”
If Sanders was being true to his democratic-socialist self, he could have sidestepped the question entirely and said under his preferred plan, employers wouldn’t have to provide insurance because the government would pay for everyone’s costs. He’d also have to explain to LaRonda why he wants to raise her taxes to cover the $17 trillion cost of such a proposal, but even this explanation might have been better than attempting to shame the businesswoman for not providing health benefits.
Sanders also had a bad moment when Cruz pressed him on LaRonda’s personal health insurance costs. LaRonda admitted to being uninsured because she makes too much money to qualify for a subsidy to buy an Obamacare plan. Cruz asked Sanders why former President Barack Obama and others promised that insurance premiums would go down (by $2,500 on average) when the opposite (twice over) happened.
That “turned out not to be true,” Sanders confessed. Indeed.
Simply put, there was no one on stage who could defend Obamacare or the status quo in our healthcare system. Like most of the American people, Cruz and Sanders both want change. We should be thankful to both of them for respectfully and reasonably laying out their visions for the future.
In the end, Cruz won the debate because he made it clear that we should hope for change in the opposite direction than where Obamacare took us. The road toward single-payer is paved with good intentions, but Americans should ask themselves, what else might “turn out not to be true” about government-run healthcare?
We don’t want to find out.