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 PelosiHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance McCarthy pulls GOP picks off House economic panel GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (D-Calif.), who is poised to become Speaker in the next Congress. 

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Liberal House Democrats urge Schumer to stick to infrastructure ultimatum 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 KindBiden's midterm strategies start to come into focus Cotton heads to Iowa to launch 'Veterans to Victory' program Exclusive: Conservative group targets vulnerable Democrats over abortion 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 SandersBernie SandersWomen's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan 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 PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms 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 NealTreasury starts monthly child tax credit payments Progressives ramp up Medicare expansion push in Congress Democrats propose new deadline in Trump tax returns fight 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 KennedySupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote 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 LarsonThe case for improving America's research and experimentation tax credit To encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Democrats have a growing tax problem with SALT 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.