Fears that progressives will make support for a single-payer health care system a mandatory litmus test for all Democrats became more serious on Tuesday night as Bernie Sanders refused to support, or say anything positive about, a very high-profile House Democratic bill aimed at strengthening Obamacare. Per a Washington Examiner account of Sanders’s interview with Chris Hayes:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running for president and has greatly influenced Democrats’ policy positions, said Tuesday that he does not support a bill introduced by House leaders to expand Obamacare.
“No, I support the ‘Medicare for all’ single-payer program,” Sanders said when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked him about the legislation that was introduced earlier that day. Asked a second time to clarify his stance and whether he supported incremental changes to the healthcare system, Sanders again replied that he did not support the bill.
As Hayes noted, this was a new position for Sanders:
It seems to represent a crossing of the Rubicon in which the candidate treats incremental reform as an abomination:
“Right now we’re working on what I have fought for my entire life,” he said. “Healthcare is a right. It has to be comprehensive. The current system is dysfunctional. It is enormously wasteful.”
The trouble is, of course, that House Democrats from across the ideological spectrum united behind the bill Bernie is disrespecting. It was designed to exploit the Trump administration’s startling decision to threaten Obamacare yet again by supporting a judicial elimination of the entire Affordable Care Act, and was intended to sidestep differences of opinion on broader health-care reforms like Medicare for All.
In Sanders’s defense, the House bill is purely a “messaging” device that will very likely never see the light of day in the Republican-controlled Senate. But his refusal even to pay Nancy Pelosi the courtesy of positive lip service toward a bill that is central to House Democrats’ 2020 strategy will likely be taken as a sign that he and his supporters intend to go to the mat for his vision of Medicare for All and excoriate anyone who doesn’t bend the knee. Accordingly, fresh hopes that Trump had divided his own party on health-care policy while uniting Democrats appear to have been premature.