While the Democrats’ Congressional leadership remains hesitant to endorse Medicare for all, as we reported earlier every politician looking to run for President in 2020, most of whom are aligned with the Democratic establishment, have lined up behind it. Such a move is undoubtedly attributable to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and the activism that has been created as a result of it. So let’s all take our victory lap and rejoice because Democrats will now work towards this goal, shall we?
Not so fast. If you are looking for a cautionary tale how the Democratic Establishment could back out just as easily as they eased into single payer, The Hill reported what happened with efforts in California, where Democrats have a supermajority in the state legislature, when SB562, the statewide single payer bill backed by the Nurses Union ran into a parliamentary buzzsaw courtesy of the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Anthony Rendon.
According to the Hill, “[t]here are still limits to California’s liberalism, and that was best shown earlier this year when the Speaker, at great personal peril, had to put to death the unfunded single-payer bill… We’re not yet Bernie Sanders’s America.” When pressed to explain why Kamala Harris and other members of the Democratic Establishment have signed up for Bernie’s bill if they don’t support it, the article goes on to quote a Political Scientist at UC San Diego to explain “the difference between the [US] Senate’s version and California’s version is that the California bill actually has a chance of becoming law — and that chance is what raised concerns in Sacramento. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats “know it’s a free vote. They know it’s not going to become reality in any kind of near-time horizon. Whereas Democrats in California had to say ‘no’ to a similar measure when faced with the challenges of implementing and taking responsibility for it,” he said. “There are things you can do when the politics are symbolic, and you have to pull back from them when it’s going to be your party that’s responsible for putting it into policy.”
Much like the national version of single payer, California’s single payer bill would also save money for low income, middle income, and even businesses due to the built in cost control on health care, even after adding three million of the state’s currently uninsured. However, the Democratic establishment in California is just as busy as any Republican would be fear mongering about the “$400 billion” cost of the bill (leaving out the part where health care in California today costs $37 billion more to cover 3 million fewer people, or the fact that over half of that money would be paid from federal funds for Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies).
That’s because as the Hill rightly points out, the Democrats have the votes to pass anything they want in California, but not in Congress. So when it’s a “free vote” that the Republicans can shoot down for them, they will keep running on it because polls find single payer at 60% favorability. But when they hold the levers of power, they will do what Anthony Rendon did, which is claim to support it but that the particular bill is not “complete” or “the right approach” or something or other.
Did Speaker Rendon let the bill make its way through the California Assembly so amendments could fix what he thought was wrong with it? Did he as one of the leaders of California Democrats and alleged supporter of single payer offer his own bill? Of course not, because all of those are excuses and not real issues. Don’t be surprised if the national Democrats claiming to be behind Bernie on Medicare for all suddenly find something wrong with the particular bill, and have no suggestions on how to fix it. We are not advising abandoning or even not welcoming the Democratic Establishment’s new found enthusiasm for this issue. We do however caution that it be taken with a grain of salt, and that progressives be ready to hold their feet to the fire.