Biden steps up hits on Buttigieg, Warren over health care

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden talks with Theresa Hanley, of Mason City, Iowa, left, during a bus tour stop, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in Mason City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

MASON CITY, IA – Joe Biden is taking aim at Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren during an eight-day tour of Iowa that the former vice president hopes will help him gain ground in the state that holds the first presidential caucus.

Biden argued Tuesday that Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is riding his coattails in pushing for a “public option” government-insurance plan to be sold alongside private insurance. He argued that Warren, meanwhile, is out of step with the Democratic Party and the general electorate with her call for a single-payer “Medicare for All” system that would supplant the private insurance market altogether.

Biden entered the race earlier this year as a front-runner, but his increasingly aggressive stance toward Buttigieg and Warren marks a recognition that the race is far from locked up in the crucial states that kick off the primary season. And by zeroing in on health care, Biden is highlighting an issue that he sees as core to his candidacy.

Biden points to his work helping pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010 as an example of the type of leadership experience most of his rivals lack. And he argues that while the other candidates have shifted their positions, he's been consistent during the 2020 campaign in embracing the public option, which he thinks will be less objectionable to moderate voters than a single-payer system.

“I was the first guy to come out with the plan to build on Obamacare, and I’m glad Pete has a version of that same plan,” Biden told reporters Tuesday in Mason City, Iowa. A day earlier, Biden was even more direct, saying the mayor essentially “stole” his idea after having once endorsed Medicare for All before he became a presidential candidate.

On Warren, Biden said there is “great enthusiasm” among Medicare for All supporters who back the Massachusetts senator, though he clarified that those enthusiastic supporters don't represent a majority of the party. It came a day after he told reporters that he didn’t see enthusiasm for Warren.

“I don’t think ... that’s where the center of the party is or the left or the right of the party,” Biden said Tuesday. Most Democrats “know it will take a long time, they know it costs a lot of money, and it’s causing some consternation for people,” he continued. “And I think ... people are gonna find some version of what I’ve been talking about for a long time, and it’s to build on Obamacare with a public option.”

Buttigieg pushed back at Biden’s criticisms after attending a health care roundtable in Montgomery, Alabama, in Tuesday. He noted that he has been talking about “Medicare for all who want it” since at least February, before Biden entered the 2020 race.