GOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace

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Republicans are cheering on the Democrats’ embrace of single-payer health care, believing the move to the left will be an albatross for candidates in next year’s elections.

After playing defense on health care for months as they failed to fill a promise to repeal ObamaCare, Bernie Sanders’s increasingly popular ‘Medicare for all’ gives the GOP new momentum to blast Democrats. And they’ve got plenty of targets, with 16 Democratic senators backing Sanders’ effort and a similar House measure supported by half of the party’s caucus.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic that the Democratic party is embracing single payer, and I think there’s a stark contrast developing at a time when the Republican party is focusing on cutting taxes, the Democratic party is focused on adding trillions of dollars of spending and advocating for socialized medicine,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), the House GOP-approved super PAC.


The CLF, which plans on spending $100 million during the 2018 election cycle to protect Republican seats in the House, plans to spend a portion of that on ads tying Democrats to single payer. That’s twice as much as they spent in 2016.

“We have $50 million dedicated to attacking Nancy Pelosi. We’re just working through what portion of that can we use to explaining how harmful single payer will be to the American people,” Bliss said. 

Democrats are hoping President Trump’s high unfavorability ratings, a surge of new candidates and the trend of the party out of power gaining in off year elections could help them win back the House and make gains in the Senate.

In particular, Republicans will take aim at the potential costs of a single-payer system. A 2016 estimate from the left-leaning Urban Institute found a previous plan from Sanders would cost $32 trillion over 10 years.

“It’s an absurd amount. Everyone who knows what that means for the average American taxpayer. It means you’re going to have to pay more for frankly less access to doctors, higher costs, you name it. You’re paying more taxes and you’re getting reduced quality,” said Jesse Hunt, national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans.

The NRCC has already released a digital ad this week attacking Sanders’s bill as “a plan so outrageous it could bankrupt the country.” 

“I can tell you that single payer and the discussion surrounding single payer will be an ongoing theme in 2018. Democrats are bear-hugging single payer health care and we’re going to make sure all voters know that … It creates a great contrast for our members and us as an organization to discuss what the Democrats want to do with health care and what our vision is.”

Sanders released a list of possible ways to pay for his system, including a 7.5 percent income-based premium paid by employers, a 4 percent income-based premium paid by households, changes to the estate tax and a new tax on the top 0.1 percent of Americans based on income. 

The 2016 presidential primary candidate, who for years failed to gain support for similar efforts, acknowledged that taxes could go up but argued the expense would be “more than offset by the money you are saving by the elimination of private insurance costs.”

Despite virtually zero chance of the bill passing a Republican-controlled Congress, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) asked Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper Thursday to analyze the bill.

“I am deeply concerned that Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All legislation is not only a government takeover of health care, but would also put financial burdens on the American people that they cannot sustain,” Barrasso said in his request.

The score, once complicated, would no doubt provide Republicans with more fodder against Democrats and single payer, especially as they head toward midterms.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is the only Democratic senator up for reelection in 2018 in a state won by Trump who has signed on to Sanders’s bill, but her seat is generally considered safe.

Still, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, wasted no time in hitting Baldwin for her support.

“Baldwin’s socialist health care system would allow the federal government to take more of Wisconsin families’ hard earned money. Tammy Baldwin wants to live in a fantasy land where everything is free, but Wisconsin families understand how her health care plan will end up costing them,” the NRSC said in a statement.

Some of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection are steering clear of the single payer debate.

Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.), all running in states won by Trump in races considered to be toss-ups by election analysts, have distanced themselves from single payer.

But as more Democrats continue to sign on, Republicans hope to tie the issue to the entire party, regardless of whether or not they support it.

“Bernie Sanders’s message to House Democrats is clear, get in line with single-payer or expect a primary challenge,” NRCC Communications Director Matt Gorman said in a statement this week.

“Sanders and Pelosi are leading their members down a path with nowhere to turn but left. The destination? Single-payer health care.”

Despite the attack on Pelosi, she has declined to endorse Sanders’s bill, instead saying she’s focused on protecting the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (R-N.Y.) also remains cautious, saying  “there are are many different bills out there,” including “many good ones.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Claire McCaskill Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John Barrasso Tammy Baldwin

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