Politics

Warren: ‘The Next Step is Single-Payer’

Massachusetts senator says it’s time for Democrats to back national single-payer health care

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., conducts a news conference after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol, March 14, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Elizabeth Warrensaid Tuesday that opposing the Republican health care bill wasn’t enough, and the Democratic Party should start running on a new national single-payer plan.

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Polling has shown government-provided health care to be a very popular notion among Americans. Depending on whether it’s described as a public option, Medicare for all, or federally funded universal health care, proposals are supported by 57 to 61 percent of Americans, compared with only 19 to 24 percent opposed. 

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Sen. Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 with Medicare for all as a key promise brought a great deal of attention to the issue.

At the same time, Hillary Clinton’s response that single-payer health care would “never, ever come to pass,” highlighted the divide between the Democratic leadership and more progressive factions.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has also waved away single-payer assertions such as Warren’s. Pelosi said she preferred to keep the focus on protecting the 2010 health care law from Republican repeal, and taking some small actions to stabilize it if Democrats regain power.

Groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America have also taken up the banner. They are holding daily protests against the GOP health care bill currently under consideration in the Senate. Those protests also call for a single payer system. With DSA and other farther-left groups experiencing growing membership and enthusiasm, some Democrats appear to be listening.

For their part, Republicans remain stridently opposed to any kind of single-payer or universal health care, which would expand the government’s role in the industry, a key Republican complaint about the 2010 law. 

Rep. Elise Stefanik told a forum in May that she opposed single-payer health care because of problems with Veterans Administration health care, while former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a California single-payer bill in 2006. The conservative organization Heritage Action has warned Republicans that a GOP bill that doesn’t adequately repeal the 2010 law could lead to single-payer. Its CEO, Mike Needham, called that prospect “the biggest fear I have.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly expressed the same fear in comments to Senate Republicans.

In recent speeches, Warren promoted the idea that Democrats should be more strident in supporting a progressive agenda, including measures like raising the minimum wage, regulating the financial industry, forgiving student loans, and expanding Social Security.

“The progressive agenda is America’s agenda,” she said. “It’s not like we’re trying to sell stuff that people don’t want … It’s not that at all. It’s that we haven’t gotten up there and been as clear about our values as we should be, or as clear and concrete about how we’re going to get there.”

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