Left wants a vote on single-payer bill in new Congress

Progressive Democrats are pushing for a vote on a controversial health-care bill after the party takes control of the House early next year. 

But the left’s push for “Medicare for all” legislation would likely divide Democrats and pose a headache for House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump celebrates judge's decision tossing core tenets of ObamaCare Pelosi gets her swagger on Young girl's death draws new scrutiny over US treatment of migrants MORE (D-Calif.), who is poised to become Speaker in the next Congress. 

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? Push to pay congressional interns an hour gains traction with progressives Dem lawmaker says she helped group of migrants enter U.S., apply for asylum MORE (D-Wash.), who is co-chair of the Medicare for All Caucus in the House, told supporters on an organizing call Tuesday night that simply expressing support for the idea is not enough.

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“When we have that majority, we need to make sure that we put it to use,” she said. 

Yet, many other House Democrats, including members of the leadership, are not on board with the idea of government-run universal health insurance.

Supporters say they are going to push for a vote and organize grass-roots efforts to pressure Democratic holdouts to sign on to the legislation. However, any floor vote would probably fail, with all Republicans and some Democrats rejecting the measure. 

Republicans used Medicare for all — otherwise known as single-payer — as a leading area of attack on Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections. They touted a recent cost estimate by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which put the bill’s price tag at $32 trillion over 10 years.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, acknowledged that centrist members did not want a vote on Medicare for all, but countered, “There’s 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 said. “Medicare for all is one of them.”

Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindPelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal While G-20 Summit was promising for US- China trade relations, Congress must still push for an exclusion process WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 MORE (Wis.), a centrist Democrat, countered that he did not want a vote on Medicare for all, pointing to what is realistic given that a Republican-controlled Senate would certainly 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.

A spokesman for Pelosi referred back to the California Democrat's previous statements on Medicare for All when asked if Pelosi was open to having a vote. 

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.

Left-leaning groups are energized about the idea and aren’t taking no for an answer. 

On a call put together by National Nurses United on Tuesday night, organizers from progressive groups told supporters how they would use grass-roots pressure to target House Democratic holdouts with phone calls and visits to their offices. They said they would particularly target 13 Democrats on the key House Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce committees who have not co-sponsored the legislation.

National Nurses United is organizing “barnstorms” of intense grass-roots activity to pressure Democrats on Medicare for all from Feb. 9-13. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll Gillibrand says she's worried about top options in Dem 2020 poll being white men Trump will likely win reelection in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.), the leading champion of the idea who may run for president again in 2020, said on the call that proponents needed “massive grass-roots support” in order to pass the measure. 

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But Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — Dems to reframe gun violence as public health issue | Court orders key documents from OxyContin maker unsealed | Pfizer announces stock buybacks Dems to reframe gun violence as public health issue Term limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority MORE (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, roughly two-thirds of the current House Democratic Caucus. But that is still far short of the number needed to pass the legislation. Neither Pallone nor the likely chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTerm limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda Pelosi sees fierce resistance from White House if Dems seek Trump’s tax returns MORE (D-Mass.), is a co-sponsor of single-payer.

Jayapal said she is working with colleagues on an updated version of that bill and hopes to have agreement on it “over the next month” to be ready to introduce in the next session, which begins in January. 

Organizers on Tuesday night’s call cited as an example of their work that they had already been showering the office of Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyMassachusetts is leading the way on gun safety, but we can’t do it alone Senate Republicans urgently need to embrace criminal justice reform Overnight Health Care: Senators urge vote on delaying health insurance tax | Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can back 'Medicare for all' bill | Latest Ebola outbreak becomes world's 2nd-worst MORE III (D-Mass.) with calls pressuring him to support the legislation. 

Kennedy told The Hill on Wednesday that he is open to co-sponsoring an updated version of the bill if it addresses some problems he has with the current text, which would bring a rising Democratic star on board.

“I am more than open to the idea of single-payer,” Kennedy said. He said “unquestionably single-payer is a part of” the discussion going forward, but added: “I think the first step is trying to make sure we maintain the progress that we’ve had with the Affordable Care Act.”

Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonTime is money: Let’s open Social Security field offices, not close them Left wants a vote on single-payer bill in new Congress Seniors are big winners in House elections MORE (D-Conn.), a former member of Democratic leadership, said he thinks allowing people 50 and over to buy into Medicare is a more “intelligent and incremental” way to address the issue, but did not push back on the idea of a vote on Medicare for all. 

“Congress should be about the vitality of ideas,” he said. “That’s an idea that should be discussed.”

Updated at 9:17 a.m.