vision 2020

Medicare for All Advocates Struggle to Launch a Democratic Platform Fight

The policy litmus test that won’t go away quietly. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

In those relatively calm pre-pandemic days of 2019 and early 2020, no Democratic presidential candidate debate or policy forum was complete without detailed wrangling over health-care policy, and particularly the pros and cons of Medicare for All, the single-payer proposal closely associated with Bernie Sanders but embraced at least partially by many other leading Democrats. The presidential nominee, of course, is a candidate who never even flirted with Medicare for All. In a normal year, perhaps there would be a powerful effort led by Sanders to force Joe Biden to embrace or at least move closer to Medicare for All via the party platform process.

But in a political environment dominated by COVID-19 and a grimly determined Democratic effort to eject Donald Trump from the White House, Sanders is trying to avoid conflict with the putative nominee. And so far he has not signed on to a burgeoning revolt against a Democratic platform that tracks Biden’s own preference for an Obamacare-based public option rather than Medicare for All.

According to the Washington Post’s David Weigel, the Democratic platform committee did debate and then vote down an amendment to endorse Medicaid for All by a vote of 125 to 36, before approving the entire platform and sending it out for remote approval by delegates prior to the convention that begins in less than three weeks. It does include a faint shout-out to Medicaid for All supporters that “welcomes” their participation in party deliberations, but that’s not cutting much ice with those being so welcomed, as Politico reports:

More than 360 delegates, most of whom back Sanders, have signed on to a pledge to vote against the Democratic Party’s platform if it does not include support for “Medicare for All,” the petition’s organizers told POLITICO. They argue that single-payer health care is an urgent priority amid a worldwide pandemic and the biggest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression …

The left-wing groups Progressive Democrats of America and are announcing Monday that they support the vow to vote against the platform if it doesn’t include Medicare for All. The Bernie Delegates Network, a coalition made up of hundreds of Sanders delegates, said it will also publicize the petition. Organizers expect those efforts will net hundreds more signatures, including from Biden delegates.

But as organizers of this revolt are surely realizing, it’s tough to launch a noisy platform fight at a virtual convention. As Weigel notes, it’s unclear there will be any visible venue for it:

At a traditional convention, the platform would be voted through during regular business, in the main hall. Democrats have reduced the public-facing part of the convention to just eight hours split over four nights, time expected to be spent on a carefully shaped introduction of Biden, his running mate, and down-ballot candidates. Party rules allow 25 percent of delegates to file a minority report, but if automatic delegates — the party officials who get automatic, “superdelegate” status — vote on the platform, the rebels won’t come close.

Said rebels, of course, are touting the usual presidential primary exit-poll data illustrating vague but strong support for Medicare for All, in the various ways people understand that term, and appealing to Biden delegates to join them. But for now, as Politico’s Holly Otterbein reports, Bernie Sanders himself seems inclined to stand aside from what many of his supporters are doing:

As long as that is the case, the revolt over the failure of the Democratic platform to embrace Medicare for All may be the proverbial tree falling in the forest that no one hears.

Medicare for All Advocates Struggle to Launch Platform Fight