Dems backtrack on single-payer bill

Some House members who have previously backed a single-payer healthcare reform bill say they will not vote for a similar measure when it hits the floor this fall.

Of the 12 serving House members who co-sponsored Rep. John Conyers’s (D-Mich.) single-payer bill (H.R. 676) in the last Congress but not in this Congress, four have indicated they will vote no on a single-payer bill to be offered by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.).

The four members are Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), David Scott (D-Ga.), and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” said Baca spokesman Mike Trujillo. “[Baca] supports a public option and not a single-payer system at this time.”

In an interview with The Hill, Scott said, “I support a public option. It’s an excellent compromise and the best vehicle to garner enough votes to pass….Single-payer isn’t going to get the votes. A public option is the best shot we have to lower costs and provide coverage to most Americans.”

Johnson adopted a similar tone in a statement to The Hill: “I have supported legislation like H.R. 676 in the past, but this year I support America’s Affordable Health Choices Act because it has a much better chance of becoming law.”

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act is the lead healthcare reform bill moving in the House.

Reps. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), and James Moran (D-Va.), all previous co-sponsors of a single-payer bill, but not co-sponsors this year, did not comment for this article.

Moran was asked his position on Weiner’s amendment by a constituent during an Aug. 25 town hall meeting.

“I don’t know,” said Moran.  “It will depend on what it takes to get the bill out of the House. Now that the president has endorsed a bill, I'm inclined to support that bill.”

Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), also past supporters, remain open to Weiner’s amendment but have not made a final decision about whether to vote for it.

The retreat by some Democrats has caught the attention of single-payer advocacy groups.

“It doesn’t represent lack of confidence in single-payer, but more of what kind of assault will come from the extreme right wing,” said Quentin Young, national coordinator for Physicians For A National Health Program.

In late July, Weiner offered a single-payer amendment during the Energy and Commerce Committee markup but withdrew it after both panel chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised that his amendment would get a floor vote.

Of the three House committee chairman with jurisdiction on health reform -- Waxman, Rangel and George Miller (D-Calif.) --  only Miller is a current co-sponsor of the Conyers measures.

Waxman cosponsored the measure in the 109th Congress.

It is unclear how Waxman will vote on the single-payer amendment, but hinted he would vote no.

“I will support the bill with the best chance of passing and reaching the president’s desk,” Waxman said when he was asked on Aug. 1 how he would vote on the Weiner amendment.

Democratic leadership is expected to split on the vote. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is not a cosponsor and neither is Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

Van Hollen has never co-sponsored a single-payer bill but said in a letter to Progressive Neighbors in 2008, “I will continue to fight for universal health care and support a single payer approach.”  Van Hollen’s office did not return calls for comment.

Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who in past years co-sponsored a single-payer bill but has not formally backed it this year, indicated he would vote yes.

“He’s supported single-payer in the past and he supports it now,” Clyburn spokeswoman Kristie Greco said.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, is a current co-sponsor of H.R. 676.

H.R. 676 currently has 86 co-sponsors – all Democrats. In the last Congress, the Conyers measure had 93 co-sponsors, and 78 in the 109th Congress.

A single-payer amendment offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), which would allow states to set up single-payer systems, passed 27-19 with 13 Republican votes last month during the Education and Labor Committee markup of healthcare reform.

One Democratic aide close to the healthcare debate said, “It would be interesting to know whether the 13 Republicans who voted to pass a single-payer amendment during the House Education and Labor Committee markup plan on supporting Rep. Weiner’s amendment ... Either these 13 Republicans had a serious change of heart or this vote is just further proof that House Republicans are more interested in political gimmicks than working to fix our broken health insurance system,”

Alexa Marrero, GOP spokeswoman for The Education and Labor Committee, fired back: “That vote was a states’ rights issue vote. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) [the ranking member on the committee] has not and will not support a single-payer plan ... This is more about Democrats’ inability to form a coherent position on healthcare.”