Democratic Debates: CNN Botches Health Care Discussion – Rolling Stone
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Jake Tapper and CNN Totally Botched the Health Care Discussion

CNN hosted a largely unintelligible discussion about Medicare-for-All, while still making time for a GOP talking point

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN, at the Fox Theatre in DetroitElection 2020 Debate, Detroit, USA - 30 Jul 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock

Health care spending makes up somewhere around a fifth of the U.S. economy. It affects every American, and is a life-or-death issue for millions of them every year. And here in the United States, where we spend more on care but die younger than in comparable countries, it’s a mess.

So let us know how you’d fix it in 15 seconds.

That was the proposition CNN made to Democratic candidates on Tuesday night. Believe it or not, it didn’t go well.

Moderator Jake Tapper initially framed the question as a fight between progressives (Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) and centrists (Former Rep. John Delaney, Governor Steve Bullock and Rep. Tim Ryan). Each camp was asked if they stood by criticisms of the other, setting up a conversation that was reminiscent of the network’s Crossfire pedigree but left candidates little time to explain what their health plans would do.

And then it got worse.

Tapper attempted to corner Warren and Sanders into a yes/no answer on whether they’d raise middle-class taxes to fund their “Medicare for All” plans. Tax increases, as an exasperated Sanders noted, are a GOP talking point, but they’re also only part of the equation of the personal finances of health care. Because if, as Sanders and Warren promise, your taxes go up some but your out-of-pocket costs go down by more, you’re better off.

That’s an argument worth discussing, but it’s a discussion that one can’t have a quarter of one minute at a time.

And so a debate over health care devolved into a tug-of-war for the mic between the candidates and the moderators. Nowhere was that more obvious than when Warren tried to tell a story of a family that was drowning in debt while a member was dying of ALS.

She was cut off by Tapper’s tax question, but she eventually got to finish her story. Not everyone was so lucky. What followed was a dizzying stretch in which Tapper called on candidate after candidate, giving each only 15 seconds to state their case.

Bullock and former Colorado Gov, John Hickenlooper aligned with Delaney over Medicare-for-All proponents Sanders and Warren, while candidates like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) tried to split the difference.

At least, we think that’s what happened. No one was really given the time necessary to explain themselves, and the rapid-fire nature of the questioning resulted in a dizzying discussion that mostly served to highlight that the Democratic Party is divided on health care, but didn’t give voters a change to understand those divides in any meaningful way.

CNN’s hawkish clock monitoring is part of an effort to avoid the type of freewheeling, interruption-filled debates that marked Democrats’ first round in in June. And the network deserves credit for trying to address the issue.

But this ain’t it, and Twitter made that clear.

CNN’s hawkish clock monitoring on health care is part of an effort to avoid the type of freewheeling, interruption-filled debates that marked Democrats’ first round in in June. And the network deserves credit for trying to find a solution.

But, as they say, this ain’t it.

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