House Dem readies 'Medicare-for-all' response to Supreme Court healthcare ruling

"Everyone is going to be asked — rightly — 'Where do we go from here?' " Welch said Wednesday in a phone interview. "Our best substantial response is to push for Medicare for all."

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Such a response would be substantially effective, Welch argued, because Medicare's popularity has remained sky high, even throughout the pitched battle over Obama's healthcare reforms. It's also a political winner, Welch added, because it would remind voters that Republicans have recently supported steep cuts in Medicare benefits. The proposed cuts have already cost Republicans in special elections in New York and Arizona over the last 13 months. 

"In all that has ensued," he said, "the one constant has been the public's support for Medicare." 

The Supreme Court is expected to rule Thursday on a slew of suits challenging the constitutionality of the Democrats' 2010 law — notably the mandate that requires most Americans buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.

Although Democrats insist the law is on firm constitutional ground, tough questioning from the justices in March has led to wide expectations that the court will shoot down at least parts of it. 

Welch's plan, which he said he hasn't floated to party leaders, hinges largely on the specifics of the court's decision. If the court upholds the entire law, then Democrats will have "all hands on deck" to implement the reforms, he said. But if the justices strike down all or parts of the statute, then he'll push his plan to lower the Medicare eligibility age — gradually — until it includes all Americans.  

Though similar plans have been around for decades, they've never moved very far in the face of opposition from conservatives and the powerful insurance industry. Indeed, Obama and the Democrats failed even in their push to get a public insurance option in their healthcare reform law.

Welch conceded that his proposal has no chance of moving in a GOP-controlled House. But that, he said, is not the point.

"This is an advocacy issue. It gives us a position to argue," he said. "It's not like we have the expectation that [House Speaker John] Boehner [(R-Ohio)] is going to bring up a Democratic healthcare bill." 

Welch also acknowledged the risks of introducing yet another controversial piece of healthcare legislation before November's elections. But the alternative, he was quick to add, would be much worse.

"Healthcare politics is very hazardous, and we've seen that throughout this debate," Welch said. "But risky as it is, there's also a lot of risk in doing nothing."