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Billionaires Only? Warren Errs in Saying Whom Her Health Plan Would Tax

WASHINGTON — When Senator Elizabeth Warren laid out her plan for “Medicare for all” on Friday, she said she would raise taxes on the top 1 percent of households to help pay for it. The middle class, she said, would not pay “one penny” more.

On Saturday night, Ms. Warren presented an even narrower description of who would face higher taxes under her plan. She told reporters that billionaires would be the only people to see their taxes go up — a misstatement of what she had proposed a day earlier.

“It doesn’t raise taxes on anybody but billionaires,” Ms. Warren told reporters in Dubuque, Iowa, when asked what income bracket she defined as “middle class.” She added, “And you know what? The billionaires can afford it.”

Anyone with under $1 billion in net worth, she said, “is not paying a penny more.” Asked again how she defined middle class, she repeated the assertion. “Understand this,” she said. “This is no increase in taxes for anyone except billionaires. Period. Done.”

But that is not what she proposed on Friday. Ms. Warren’s plan for Medicare for all, which calls for $20.5 trillion in new federal spending over a decade, would be financed through a mix of sources, including $3 trillion in total from two proposals to tax wealthy Americans.

One of those proposals — accounting for $2 trillion of the $3 trillion total — would go far beyond billionaires. For the top 1 percent of households, Ms. Warren would increase taxes on investment gains. She would put in place a new system in which capital gains are taxed annually instead of when investments are sold, and she would raise the tax rate on capital gains to be the same as on ordinary income like wages.

The campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of Ms. Warren’s top rivals, quickly criticized her over the comments.

“The American people have to be able to trust whoever our party nominates to take on Donald Trump to be straight with them about health care,” Kate Bedingfield, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Biden, said in a statement. “Senator Warren said tonight that her single-payer plan won’t raise taxes on anyone but billionaires, but that’s simply not true.”

Ms. Bedingfield argued that two other taxes proposed by Ms. Warren would also affect a broader population than just billionaires: a tax on employers that is similar to what they are currently spending on their employees’ health care, and a tax on financial transactions like stock trades.

The issue of Medicare for all has been a major and escalating point of tension between Ms. Warren and Mr. Biden, and a central fault line in the Democratic presidential primary. Mr. Biden supports adding a public health insurance option that people can purchase and building on the Affordable Care Act. He has cast Ms. Warren’s more expansive plan as costly and unrealistic, telling reporters in Des Moines on Saturday that “getting that plan through even a Democratic Congress would be difficult.”

Ms. Warren’s proposal to increase taxes on investment gains did not precisely describe how she would define the top 1 percent of households. In 2017, the top 1 percent of tax returns had income above roughly $515,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service — about 1.4 million tax returns in total. Earlier this year, Forbes said there were 607 billionaires in the United States.

The other proposal to tax wealthy Americans that Ms. Warren put forward on Friday would affect only billionaires. She would increase her proposed wealth tax on net worth above $1 billion to 6 percent annually, from 3 percent. (Her wealth tax also includes a 2 percent tax on net worth over $50 million, but that remains unchanged from what she proposed in January.)

Asked about Ms. Warren’s comments, a spokeswoman for her campaign acknowledged that taxes would increase on the top 1 percent, and said Ms. Warren had been referring to her wealth tax proposal when she said taxes would increase only on billionaires.

Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting from Dubuque, Iowa, and Katie Glueck from Des Moines.

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