Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate and Independent Senator from Vermont, recently put forth a “Medicare-for-All” bill with 16 Democratic co-sponsors. The bill is a culmination of Sanders’ crusade in recent years to create legislation that will ensure affordable insurance for all Americans. The notion of “single-payer” health insurance is that tax dollars are used to create a government health care option, extremely similar to how individuals over 65 can receive Medicare right now.
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Sanders cited a recent poll that stated that 60 percent of Americans supported the idea of expanding Medicare. The financial cost, which Sanders admits is unknown at this time, would likely be great. That creates a need for new taxes on the wealthiest Americans, as well as creative solutions to funnel money into the programs, such as reducing prescription drug prices to European levels, or cutting down on administrative waste involved with the private insurance industry. The process is daunting, but the payoff could be a better quality of life for all Americans.
As is common in politics, not everybody is on board with Bernie’s plan. The fact of the matter is that single-payer has no chance of becoming law with a Republican-run House, Senate, and Presidency (and arguably, the Supreme Court to boot). And that’s not all. Many centrist Democrats have yet to warm to the idea, for one reason or another. We took a look at who among the Democrats are fighting against Senator Sanders and “Medicare-for-All” to reveal why it never even had a prayer.
Who supports it?
But first, here is who supports “Medicare-for-All.” Known progressive Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, joined forces with Sanders on the bill. Oregon’s Jeff Merkley has also signed on. The surprise, however, is how many more center-leaning and “at-risk” Democrats have been willing to support a bill that is almost certainly doomed from the start.
One example would be Tammy Baldwin, a senator from Wisconsin that is up for re-election in 2018. While that might not seem like a problem, considering 60 percent of Americans support expanding Medicare, Wisconsin is also a state that voted in favor of Donald Trump last November. Support for a single-payer program among Republican voters is significantly low, in the vicinity of 10-15%.
Other senators have been willing to take a risk, as well, and that includes potential 2020 presidential candidates such as New Jersey’s Cory Booker, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, and Minnesota’s Al Franken. That said, others still aren’t willing to make the leap, including …
Former VP candidate Tim Kaine
Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election has refused to add his support to Sanders’ bill, instead saying that he prefers more marketplace options to narrowing the score to a single-payer format. That is relatively transparent support for the Affordable Care Act, which many center-leaning Democrats view as a net positive; it helps regulate health insurance in a way that allows all Americans access, but keeps it in the hands of capitalists.
Kaine did support the introduction of the bill, which is a step. It’s unclear if he intends to run for president in 2020, and it’s debatable just how wise an attempt may be considering his perceived attachment to Clinton and lukewarm reception as a vice presidential candidate. Even still, if he is thinking of making a run, staying away from Sanders’ legislation is likely a calculated move designed to appease those within the Democratic National Committee.
Nancy Pelosi opts to continue pushing for Obamacare
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said that she would review Senator Sanders’ bill, but would not offer her support. Considering her reputation as pro-capitalism, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise – even if Pelosi has stated previously that she supports the idea, in general. Here is what she had to say, according to Politico.
Right now, I’m protecting the Affordable Care Act. None of these other things … can really prevail unless we have the Affordable Care Act.
While Pelosi is correct to be skeptical of how Sanders’ bill might fare, and with Trump prepared to veto anything short of an Obamacare repeal, she’s not correct in the assumption that single-payer can’t prevail in the absence of the ACA.
Chuck Schumer stops short of taking a strong stance
To say that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is opposed to Sanders’ bill wouldn’t be an accurate representation. He simply hasn’t come out and directly supported it. Here are his comments, via The Hill. “Democrats believe that health care is a right for all, and there are many different bills out there. There are many good ones,” Schumer told reporters during a weekly leadership press conference.
Schumer will have more to do with Sanders’ bill than Pelosi, whose support (or lack thereof) is merely symbolic. While it’s true he hasn’t directly supported the “Medicare-for-All” bill from Sanders and a host of Democrats, he has mentioned that they will be looking at it along with a handful of other bills. The guess here is that Schumer is playing it safe for now, not wanting to outwardly endorse anything that could harm another bill’s chance of passing.
Claire McCaskill refuses to throw support behind a ‘fiscally irresponsible’ plan
Claire McCaskill, a senator from Missouri, is a Democrat that refuses to support Sanders’ bill. While she may be more liberal on social issues, McCaskill makes no secret of the fact that she’s fiscally conservative. Here is how she described herself at a townhall back in April.
I’m a moderate, and I’m not going to pretend that I’m not…I’m used to having folks on the far ends be cranky with me, and I hope they understand that on a whole lot of things, I am there for them, in terms of their values. But I am also not going to veer to the left when it’s fiscally irresponsible to do so.
It could be debated whether single-payer is fiscally irresponsible, just like how it could be debated whether our current system of allowing people to go bankrupt for getting cancer is morally irresponsible. McCaskill doesn’t appear to be interested, however. And for what it’s worth, she has never been much of a fan of Sanders in general.
Debbie Stabenow pushes for an expansion of Medicare instead
Debbie Stabenow, a senator from Michigan, hasn’t supported the “Medicare-for-All” bill. But she has a pretty good reason. Stabenow has been touting her own health care bill to expand Medicare, which is currently available to Americans over the age of 65. She would like to make Medicare available for those 55 and older.
People between the ages of 55 and 64 often have more health problems and face higher health care costs but aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. If you live in Michigan, are 58 years old, and are having a hard time finding coverage that works for you, this bill will let you buy into Medicare before you turn 65. Our legislation is one way we can work together on a bipartisan basis to lower health care and prescription drug costs.
While Sanders’ “Medicare-for-All” dream might be what is needed in the United States – along with massive governmental reform in the health care and pharmaceutical industries – there is just no chance it can pass with a Republican-controlled Senate. Stabenow’s more realistic but less far-reaching goals have a slightly better chance of surviving, so her reasons for staying away from Sanders’ bill make sense.
Montana Senator Jon Tester has priorities elsewhere
Jon Tester of Montana, like McCaskill, has refused to support a single-payer system. He did, however, suggest recently that such a bill was worth taking a look at. But his office has clarified that his statement should not be read as support for single-payer, and he has also clarified that his priorities on health care lie elsewhere. “I support fixing what we’ve got because I think that’s more likely to happen,” he said.
Like with so many others, this shouldn’t come as a surprise if you read between the lines. Tester is up for re-election in 2018, and Montana is a state that voted for Trump in the 2016 general election. So while he is the favorite to maintain his senate seat in 2018, Tester knows he needs to be careful about what legislation he chooses to support. Risking re-election to support a bill with no chance of passing wouldn’t make any sense.