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 PelosiPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress MORE (D-Calif.), who is poised to become Speaker in the next Congress. 

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHouse Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour Progressive House Democrats describe minimum wage hike as feminist issue in Teen Vogue column 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 KindProtect American patients and innovation from a harmful MedTech Tax increase We should repeal the medical device tax on veterans House panel approves bills on tax extenders, expanding tax credits 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 Sanders'Medicare for All': The hype v. Maryland's reality Biden says he supports paying campaign staff minimum wage Biden's lead narrows in early voting states: poll 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 PalloneEquifax to pay up to 0 million to feds, states in 2017 data breach settlement Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors 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 NealProgressive mayor launches primary challenge to top Ways and Means Democrat Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection House votes to repeal ObamaCare's 'Cadillac tax' 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 KennedyHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House passes annual intelligence bill Pressley responds to Pelosi dismissal of votes against border bill 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 LarsonWarren introduces universal child care legislation Unchain seniors from chained inflation index A tax increase is simply not the answer to fund Social Security 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.