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Prime-time health-care debate should be win-win for Democrats


With less than a week remaining before the clock runs out on Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care act via reconciliation, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.) will engage in a prime-time CNN debate over their health-care legislation against Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The debate is a last ditch Hail Mary for the Graham-Cassidy bill, which faces a tremendous amount of headwinds in passing the Senate this week. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) gave his official thumbs down to the legislation on Friday and the bill’s prospects further imploded over the weekend. Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Ala.) voted against previous ACA repeal efforts and appear unlikely to jump on board the Graham-Cassidy train. Republican Senators Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) do not currently support the legislation and any new efforts to appease them will likely come at the expense of moderate support.

{mosads}A new draft of the bill is currently being circulated and the Senate Finance Committee discussed the issue among a sea of protesters. With an expected vote on Wednesday, the spotlight and stakes of Monday night’s debate couldn’t be higher.

Conventional political wisdom would hold that Democrats should relish the opportunity to engage in a high-profile debate against an extremely unpopular piece of legislation that is likely doomed to failure. Instead, numerous media personalities and Democratic supporters have expressed nerves and reservations about this debate occurring and the focus shifted to the merits of a single-payer health-care system in the United States.

Former National Security spokesman in the Obama administration Tommy Vietor questioned whether this showcase is “the debate we want right now.” CNN political analyst David Gergen warned that it was a “strategic mistake” for Sanders to participate in debate involving the merits of single-payer before a national television audience. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough echoed these criticisms and said that it was “politically stupid” for Democratic Party leadership to support the idea, which could backfire and imperil any 2020 presidential prospects that Sanders may still have.

Graham has already embraced these arguments and argued that his health-care legislation is the only thing that can stop socialism from reaching the shores of America. While there is certainly some validity to these concerns, they are largely overblown. Since the ACA and single-payer both significantly outpoll Graham-Cassidy, Democrats should warmly embrace a debate on health-care that if properly executed could end GOP rollback attempts for the foreseeable future.

Senators Graham and Cassidy will have their work cut out for them defending a proposal that is extremely unpopular. According to a recent CBS News Poll, only 20 percent of Americans support this legislation, while a majority disapprove.

Significant concerns exist over waivers that states could seek to increase the cost of insurance for those with pre-existing conditions. Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has repeatedly opined about this and there is no doubt his name will come up during the debate. Conversely, a majority of the public now has a favorable view of the ACA, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. This has not always been the case, but support for President Obama’s signature legislative item has steadily increased once he left office and Republican repeal efforts became front and center.

The latest Harvard-Harris Poll found that 52 percent of Americans favor a single-payer health-care system that is funded and administered by the government and eliminates private insurance companies. Since both single-payer and the ACA are more popular than Graham-Cassidy, Sanders and Klobuchar should be able to deftly defend the status quo health-care system in comparison to the Republican proposal, while simultaneously espousing potential upsides of a single-payer system down the road.

Even though single-payer health care has some support from Democrats and especially younger voters, it likely won’t be seen anytime soon in the United States because of legitimate political and economic concerns.

It’s an aspirational proposal, but one that has attracted support from several 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.). The main focus of Sanders and Klobuchar will no doubt be on the tremendous unpopularity of Graham-Cassidy, including millions that are at risk of losing insurance coverage or facing higher premiums. They will likely also plug the bipartisan efforts of Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who held hearings regarding productive ways to stabilize health insurance markets and provide greater certainty to insurance companies, which could result in lower premiums.

Graham entertained those who tuned into the undercard debates during the Republican presidential primary, but his zingers never caused his poll numbers to go higher than single digits. Sanders held his own against formidable debater Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary. The two Democratic senators should have the support of the public and viewing audience.

It’s tough for Democrats to break through a media cycle that President Trump routinely dominates. They should be eager to shine a spotlight on a winning issue like health care and attempt to end Graham-Cassidy for good before a major television audience.

Aaron Kall is the director of debate at the University of Michigan and editor/co-author of “Debating The Donald.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Bill Cassidy Bill Cassidy Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton John McCain Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Patty Murray Publicly funded health care Rand Paul single-payer healthcare Susan Collins Ted Cruz

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