Washington — Sen. Bernie Sanders rode his impassioned liberal army of supporters through a tumultuous 2016, fighting to snatch the Democratic presidential nomination from Hillary Clinton. Now he’s disrupting the party anew, forcing Democrats to take sides over his plan to provide government-run health care for all.
The Vermont independent’s proposal, which he plans to unveil Wednesday, is thrilling the party’s progressive base and attracting many potential 2020 presidential hopefuls eager to align those activists behind them. Yet Democratic leaders are stopping short of embracing it, and others are warning it’s a political and policy trap.
Meanwhile, the so-called single-payer bill has Republicans gleefully anticipating wielding it as a campaign weapon, particularly against the 10 Democrats defending Senate seats in states President Donald Trump won last year and where liberal voters are scarce.
“I’m not seeing any evidence single payer is attractive to the swing voters Democrats would need to win control of the House and Senate,” said Jim Hobart, a GOP political consultant. Using it against Democrats will be “a very inviting attack line,” he said.
As described by aides, Sanders’ bill would essentially expand the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly to all Americans, covering virtually all medical needs except long-term nursing care. By Tuesday afternoon, it had been co-sponsored by at least 12 Democratic senators, including four other possible presidential contenders: Kamala Harris of California, Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“The time is now for the United States to do what every other major country on Earth has done, and that is to guarantee health care to all people as a right and not a privilege,” Sanders said in a brief interview Monday. He declined to discuss his proposal’s political impact.
A similar House bill by Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, has 117 co-sponsors, more than half that chamber’s Democrats, underscoring the concept’s growing acceptance.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a potential presidential hopeful, said he’s pushing another bill with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, to let people over age 55 buy into Medicare, 10 years younger than now. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., another 2020 presidential possibility, has his own Medicare buy-in plan.
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