Dem leaders, progressives struggle over 'Medicare for all'

Dem leaders, progressives struggle over 'Medicare for all'
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Democratic leaders in the House are offering warnings about the high cost of "Medicare for all," underscoring concerns in the party about moving forward with the single-payer health care proposal.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Calif.) in an interview with Rolling Stone published last week said moving to a single-payer system was the simplest way to bring about universal health care, but then noted an estimated $30 trillion cost.

“That is, administratively, the simplest thing to do, but to convert to it? Thirty trillion dollars. Now, how do you pay for that?” Pelosi said.

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Separately, Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden asks if public can trust vaccine from Trump ahead of Election Day | Oklahoma health officials raised red flags before Trump rally DCCC dropping million on voter education program Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race MORE (D-Ill.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Hill this week that the price tag for Medicare for all is “a little scary.”

Bustos is in charge of growing the Democratic majority won in the 2018 midterm elections — and a big part of her job will be protecting the dozens of members who won seats in districts that were either carried by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE or were narrowly won by Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE in the 2016 presidential election.

Many of those centrist Democrats oppose Medicare for all and would be caught between a liberal base and more conservative voters in their districts if forced to do so.

Progressives want a vote on Medicare for all this year, setting the party up for a thorny debate.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline McCarthy says there will be a peaceful transition if Biden wins Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid MORE (D-N.Y.) told The Hill she would like a vote on Medicare for all this year.

“I would love for it to come to a vote; I think that it should come for a vote,” she said. “We have an enormous amount of Americans that are excited about the idea and I think we should have the discussion for sure.”

At the same time, Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives say they are playing the long game.

They argue they aren’t frustrated with leadership’s lukewarm comments about their proposal and are looking to lobby Pelosi and other Democrats to warm them up.

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-Wash.), a leading sponsor of a Medicare for all bill, said she is trying to set up a meeting with Pelosi to explain the bill to her and try to win her support.

Asked about Pelosi’s comment about the cost, Jayapal replied, “Look, I want to make sure she understands exactly what's in the bill.”

Jayapal said she is “in the process of setting up a member-to-member meeting just so I can walk her through [the bill].”

Ocasio-Cortez, asked if she is disappointed that Pelosi is not supporting the bill, held her fire.

“I don’t think I’m disappointed often here because I’m kind of more of a realist than I get credit for,” she said.

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The Speaker, who was instrumental in shepherding ObamaCare through the House, hasn’t firmly closed the door on Medicare for all either and says she supports hearings on the measure.

But Pelosi is also in a tricky spot as she seeks to manage liberals and centrists in her caucus with different ideas on policy, all ahead of a 2020 race where she wants to be helpful in winning the White House for Democrats.

Republicans, for their part, are tripping over themselves to attack Democrats on the issue, sensing an opportunity to shift the health care debate away from GOP efforts to weaken ObamaCare, including the law’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Democratic leaders are trying to keep the focus on that issue and not the more sweeping Medicare for all proposals. They have already started moving smaller health care bills through committee that highlight pre-existing conditions, such as a measure to ban cheaper, skimpier “junk” insurance that was expanded by the Trump administration.

Pelosi also noted in the Rolling Stone interview that a single-payer system would mean scrapping the Affordable Care Act system.

“All I want is the goal of every American having access to health care,” Pelosi said. “You don’t get there by dismantling the Affordable Care Act.”

Still, she is careful not to dismiss the idea out of hand. “So I said, ‘Look, just put them all on the table, and let’s have the discussion, and let people see what it is. But know what it is that you’re talking about,’” Pelosi said.

Most of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, mindful of the progressive base in a Democratic primary, have endorsed single-payer, including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTexas Democratic official urges Biden to visit state: 'I thought he had his own plane' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements A game theorist's advice to President Trump on filling the Supreme Court seat MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing MORE (N.J.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (Mass.).

But the picture is far different in the House Democratic Caucus, where Pelosi must balance progressive firebrands against many centrist members elected from GOP-leaning districts who think Medicare for all goes too far.

“She's obviously balancing lots of different things, but, you know, I'm not frustrated,” Jayapal said of Pelosi, noting the Speaker’s support for holding hearings on Medicare for all.  

Republicans have seized on the price tag of the proposal, pointing to a study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University that put the price tag for the government at $32 trillion over 10 years.

Defenders of Medicare for all counter that the same study showed total U.S. health care spending, as opposed to just the government’s share, would actually fall by $2 trillion under the proposal.

Spending would be shifted from premiums and out-of-pocket costs people are paying to private insurance companies into taxes that would fund the government-run system, but that transition could be hard to pull off.

“I'm an immigrant, you know, to this country,” Jayapal said. “I'm really used to hard work and I'm going to do all the work. I'm not frustrated at all.”