Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made waves last week when she endorsed single-payer health care via Facebook Live. This announcement came shortly after Senator Elizabeth Warren made a similar declaration, calling on the Democrats to turn left. The news has prompted speculation as to what it could mean for the future of the New York senator as well as that of the Democratic Party.
That said, Gillibrand’s team has eschewed the idea that this position is a new one. In response to media inquiries by Vox‘s Jeff Stein and others, they have been quick to point out that in 2006, she advocated for a Medicaid and Medicare buy-in program.
As evidence, they pointed to 2006 article where Gillibrand talked about the need to let anyone buy into Medicare or Medicaid: pic.twitter.com/hjUghY0VB4
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) June 29, 2017
Her team is misleadingly calling this “Medicare-for-All” despite the means test. In fairness, back in April, the centrist firebrand did tell New York Magazine that she was excited to co-sponsor Senator Bernie Sanders’ upcoming “Medicare-for-All” bill. However, that legislation has not yet been announced.
Still, many progressives are wary of Gillibrand because of her misleading responses and history. After all, the New York senator has made a career of standing with one foot on the stump and the other in corporate board rooms.
Notoriously close with Wall Street, Gillibrand can also call the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries old allies. In 2012, the senator received $72,750 from pharmaceutical manufacturers and $20,000 from health insurers. Between then and now, she has taken an additional $12,700 and $7,000 from those groups, respectively.
With speculation swirling around a potential 2020 presidential bid for Gillibrand, many feel her commitment to single-payer is less ideological than it is political. This is worrying for progressives, even as Republicans gear up to replace the Affordable Care Act with something jaw-droppingly worse. The ACA offers important protections for many vulnerable populations but has already left roughly 30 million Americans without adequate coverage. Fed up Americans—and especially the Democratic base—are looking to single-payer as the answer.
As Matthew Rozsa of Salon reported:
A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 33 percent of Americans favor a single-payer health care program, including 52 percent of Democrats/Leaning Democrats and 64 percent of liberals. The total number who favor single payer has risen by 5 percent from its total in January and a whopping 12 percent from where it was in 2014.
Overall 60 percent of the people polled said that the government is responsible for guaranteeing that all Americans have health care coverage, compared to 39 percent who felt that it did not. That number reached 85 percent for Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, while 68 percent of Republicans said the government should not have that responsibility.
This news signals progress for advocates of single-payer, and some have given the thumbs up to the public support from Gillibrand:
who ?cares ?if ?Gillibrand ?is ?an ?opportunist ?as?long?as?she ?keeps ?coming ?out ?with ?takes ?like? this? https://t.co/OYUGEpt541
— sick transit, gloria (@samknight1) June 30, 2017
At this point, Gillibrand’s ideology might not matter as much as what her support means in terms of messaging. While most House Democrats have endorsed Rep. John Conyers’ “Medicare-for-All” bill, H.R. 676, very few Senate Democrats have openly called for a single-payer system. The stark reality is, as The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported, Republicans are already unified in trying to sway public opinion against the plan:
On Wednesday, the GOP’s Senate campaign committee launched Web ads against the 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection in Trump-won states, warning of “government health care” if they win. The same day, the National Republican Congressional Committee gleefully highlighted the CNN interview with Bryce. White House press secretary Sean Spicer has also chimed in.
Journalist Andrew Perez pointed out that one-sided narratives defined by the GOP have hurt the Democrats in the past:
One of the reasons ACA was immediately unpopular is GOP made huge effort to define it while Dems negotiated small details
— Andrew Perez (@andrewperezdc) July 6, 2017
As such, progressives in favor of single-payer would do well to welcome all the help they can get to challenge Republican attacks—even if that help is coming from someone who is likely the wrong candidate to run for president in 2020, and even if it is someone they would like to see face a primary challenge from her left in 2018.
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