Progressives Want a Vote on ‘Medicare for All’ In New Congress

Democrats in support of single payer healthcare will push for a vote on their controversial healthcare legislation in the House of Representatives after they take control in January.

However many believe that if progressives do push for single payer (also known as Medicare for All) legislation it is likely to divide Democrats in the new Congress. It will also create an unwanted headache for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif.), or whoever becomes Speaker of the House next year.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Washington, the co-chair of the ‘Medicare for All’ Caucus in the House, told supporters on an organizing call Tuesday night that they are ready to take the next step in supporting what they believe is a critical new law. According to her, just expressing support for the idea of single payer healthcare is not enough right now.

“When we have that majority, we need to make sure that we put it to use,” Jayapal said on the call.

Many other House Democrats, including the current  leaders such as Pelosi, are not supportive of the idea, and have said that they do not approve of a government-run health program that would cover all Americans.

Supporters of single payer, however, say they are going to push for a vote in the new Congress. They also are in the process of organizing nationwide grass-roots efforts to pressure Democratic holdouts to sign on to the “Medicare for All” legislation. They recognize that a floor vote will probably fail, since all Republicans and some Democrats will vote against the bill.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva from Arizona, the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, acknowledged that many House Democrats do not want a vote on Medicare for all. However, he said, “There are going to be votes that we need to take.”

“Regardless of the political ideology, everybody understands the expectations that we’re under, and you have to satisfy a lot of expectations,” Grijalva added. “Medicare for all is one of them.”

Centrist Democrat Ron Kind of Wisconsin made clear that he does not want a vote on Medicare for all. He said such a bill is not realistic since Republicans control the Senate and they will never pass such a bill.

“Even Leader Pelosi and our leadership isn’t pushing that right now, so I think we need to be pragmatic in our legislative ambitions around here with a divided Congress and with Trump down at the White House,” Kind said.

Pelosi said in June that ideas like Medicare for all would “have to be evaluated in terms of the access that they give, the affordability of it and how we would pay for it.”

“But again, it’s all on the table,” she added.

On the conference call organized by National Nurses United (NNU) on Tuesday night, organizers from several different progressive groups talked to thousands of supporters who were on the call.

The focus of the call was how they planned to use grass roots political pressure methods to specifically target House Democratic holdouts. They will be making phone calls and visits to congressional offices, for example.

The organizers leading the grass roots efforts indicated they had an initial goal of just targeting the 13 Democrats on the House Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce committees. (These are the two committees who must approve any healthcare legislation before it is sent to the full House of Representatives for a vote.)

They plan to attempt to persuade the “holdout” House Democrats who have not co-sponsored the legislation and appear to not be supportive of what they are doing.

To improve their odds of success NNU is going to organize what they call “barnstorms” around the country in February. These will be events that kick off intense local grassroots activity. This is how they hope to apply pressure to “holdout” Democrats.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was also on the conference call. He is seen as the leading champion of the “Medicare for All” single payer healthcare idea. He said to the thousands of people on the call that they must be successful in marshaling what he called “massive grass-roots support” in order to be successful in getting legislation passed.

But Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the likely chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee next year, indicated Wednesday he is not interested in holding hearings or a vote on the bill and pointed to smaller steps to shore up the Affordable Care Act.

“I’ve always been an advocate for Medicare for all or single-payer, but I just don’t think that the votes would be there for that, so I think our priority has to be stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, preventing the sabotage that the Trump administration has initiated,” Pallone said.

The current Medicare for all legislation, H.R. 676, has 123 Democratic co-sponsors but that is short of the number needed to pass the legislation.  Support for the bill may go up in January as new, progressive House members are seated. Neither Pallone nor the likely chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), is a co-sponsor of H.R. 676.

Rep Jayapal said, however, that she is working with other members of her group on an updated version of H.R. 676. and they hope to have agreement on it “over the next month” so they introduce it in the next session of Congress, which begins in January.

The prospects for the single payer legislation are murky at best. But many Democrats believe they were given control of the House in order to “solve” the healthcare problem in this country. And they believe that the only way to do that is to pass “Medicare for all” and provide healthcare to every American.