Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren debate in October in Ohio.

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren debate in October in Ohio. John Minchillo/AP

Viewpoint: Voters Deserve to Know How the 2020 Candidates Would Really Govern

Presidents can’t wave a magic wand and make single-payer insurance happen.

The next Democratic presidential debate happens Wednesday night in Atlanta. Other than a slightly altered roster of candidates and an all-female slate of moderators, we have no reason to believe that it will be substantially different from the other debates. We can expect yet more questions about single-payer health coverage versus a public option. Elizabeth Warren’s rivals may be asked to dissect her version of Medicare for All and her newly released financing plan for it.

Yet while polls show that health care is a top priority for voters, and while the policy differences among the slew of Democratic presidential candidates are meaningful, the moderators posing highly specific questions about the issue at past debates have ignored something important: However coherent, complete, fiscally sustainable, or popular the positions the candidates are taking on health reform—and on other issues such as immigration, education, taxes, and more—presidents do not get to wave magic wands and make their policies happen. They are thrown into a governing process in which a president’s plan is almost never enacted into law fully, if it is enacted at all. The legislative process, in recent decades, has become even more toxic. But questions that press the candidates on how they would navigate through this environment—and what they would do to reduce its toxicity—have been conspicuously absent in every debate so far.