vision 2020

Will Biden Actually Fight for a Public Option?

Biden has been asked so much about Medicare For All that he’s barely addressed his own health care plan. Photo: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Some progressives are undoubtedly unhappy over Joe Biden’s televised comments indicating that he might well veto Medicare for All legislation if it reached his desk as president. His remarks are indeed a reflection of values and priorities that primary voters should think about before choosing between Uncle Joe and Bernie Sanders.

But as the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman points out, it’s not actually going to matter during the presidential term for which Biden and Sanders are campaigning:

Asking Biden whether he’ll veto single-payer in 2021 is like asking him whether he’ll flap his wings and fly to the moon, then attacking him for the kind of jumpsuit he’ll be wearing while doing it.

I say this as someone who believes a single-payer system would be the most effective at solving our many health-care problems. But single-payer health care will not be passing Congress in 2021. It won’t happen if Biden is president, and it won’t happen if Bernie Sanders is president. It won’t happen if Democrats take back the Senate, and it won’t happen if they get rid of the filibuster. It not only couldn’t get 50 votes for passage there, it probably couldn’t get 30 votes.

This statement might offend those Bernie Sanders supporters who really do believe his election will unleash some sort of “political revolution” that will square circles and make 2+2=29. But it’s the truth. And Waldman’s also right that the endless and often-exclusive talk during the Democratic presidential nominating contest of M4A has let candidates like Biden off the hook:

The right questions have to do with Biden’s public option plan: how committed he is to it, how quickly he’s going to push it, what he’s willing and unwilling to compromise on, and how he plans to wage the fight it will take to pass it.

As far as I can tell, Biden hasn’t been asked about any of that.

Yes, M4A supporters have reason to scoff at the relatively modest goals of a public option, just as they scoff at the Affordable Care Act. But for those in the trenches of the political battle for something approaching universal health-care coverage, the public-option plan Biden has advanced would be a very big deal, notes Waldman:

Biden’s health-care plan is surprisingly liberal. It goes way beyond the ACA and enrolls millions of people in government health care, including everyone who was denied Medicaid because they live in a Republican hold-out state that refused the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. It auto-enrolls low-income people whenever they have an interaction with the government. It allows anyone, even those with employer-provided insurance, to join a government plan.

If Biden becomes president, there will be no point in asking, “Why isn’t this as expansive as Bernie Sanders’s version of single payer?” The question will be whether Biden can actually make what he promised happen.

As someone who has mocked Biden’s “theory of change” as much as Sanders’s, I want to hear the former veep talk about that. Does he really believe that Trump’s departure will make Senate Republicans embrace the sweet reasonableness of Jesus and work with him to expand health care coverage beyond the Obamacare provisions they’ve tried so very hard to thwart, repeal and pervert? If not, we’d like to see a practical step-by-step plan or at least an acknowledgement that it will require a real war. Indeed, in that one-on-one Democratic debate coming up in Arizona next weekend, it would be nice to hear both men address exactly how they will implement their own health care proposals.

Will Biden Actually Fight for a Public Option?