The Plank

Health Care, Good. Taxes, Good.


I am happy to break with recent Planking and say a little something favorable about John Edwards. The early headlines about his new plan for universal health care focus on the fact that he'd raise taxes to pay for it. And, to his credit, Edwards didn't try to dodge that fact on "Meet the Press" yesterday. In fact, he seemed eager for an opportunity to put down a marker about this issue -- to make it clear that, yes, he thought expanding access to health insurance meant raising taxes and that, yes, he believed it was the right thing to do.

Here is the key exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: Would you be willing to raise taxes in order to help pay for this?
SEN. EDWARDS: Yes, we'll have to raise taxes. The, the only way you can pay for a health care plan, from 90--that costs anywhere from $90 billion to $120 billion is there has to be a revenue source. The revenue source for paying for the plan that I'm proposing is, is first we get rid of George Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year. ...
MR. RUSSERT: But you'd be willing to increase taxes to provide health care?
SEN. EDWARDS: Yes, absolutely.

This is a sign of changing political signs -- remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger, prime-time star of the 2004 GOP convention, has called for doing much the same thing. And it's a welcome sign at that. Undoing the damage of the Bush era will almost certainly involve rolling back some, if not all, of the tax cuts he enacted. And contrary to the wisdom peddled by conservatives, higher taxes can co-exist with a strong economy, as long as those taxes are paying for something worthwhile -- like, say, universal health care.

All that said, it's worth pointing out that this isn't entirely new territory for Edwards. In 2004, he -- along with most of the other leading Democratic contenders -- proposed rolling back the tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest tax payers. (The exceptions were Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, who proposed rolling back all the tax cuts and who, I still believe, had the right idea.) The difference between what Edwards said then and what he's promising to do now is that last time he proposed to use only some of the money for a health care plan. This time, it's all going to health care, giving him the resources to try something much more ambitious than he did last time.

And what about that plan? Is it any good? More on that a little later ...

--Jonathan Cohn

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