Bernie Sanders is going to do his more moderate colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus a big favor, in pursuit of the larger goal of trying to defeat Republican efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act.
The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday night that Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) is planning to propose an amendment during debate this week to create a single-payer health care system.
Daines doesn’t support single-payer. But his amendment is an attempt to splinter the Democratic caucus and expose the minority party’s divisions on how to reform the health care system. Republicans are struggling mightily to find 50 votes to pass their bill, and the Examiner suggests that Daines is interested in calling attention to Democrats’ internal discord. In essence, the hope would be to force the many Democrats who are in cycle in 2018 to choose between going on the record as favoring a pretty hefty tax increase by voting for a Daines-written single-payer bill and attracting the ire of Sanders supporters by voting against it.
But Sanders isn’t having it.
Sanders won’t take Daines’s bait
The tactic of turning Sanders fans’ often dyspeptic attitude about the Democratic Party establishment to their advantage has worked for Republicans in the past, but Sanders has no intention of letting them run that playbook this week. Rather than seize the opportunity from Daines to talk about “Medicare-for-all” — which would in turn highlight Democrats’ internal divisions — Sanders will reject Daines’s amendment, a spokesperson for the senator told me.
"The Democratic caucus will not participate in the Republicans' sham process. No amendment will get a vote until we see the final legislation and know what bill we are amending,” spokesperson Josh Miller-Lewis said in a text.
“Once Republicans show us their final bill, Sen. Sanders looks forward to getting a vote on his amendment that makes clear the Senate believes that the United States must join every major country and guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege."
Democrats are divided on single-payer
Over the past few weeks, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have all voiced their support for “Medicare-for-all.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) told Vox’s Ezra Klein in April that he believes, “ultimately, in ideas like single-payer or ‘Medicare-for-all.’”
But there’s still not much appetite in the party to talk about single-payer right now. Instead, Senate Democrats say their focus has to be on defending the Affordable Care Act. “I’m optimistic the people of our country could rise up and demand a single-payer system, but right now we’re still fighting the battle of making sure they don’t succeed in repealing Obamacare,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told me outside the Capitol on Tuesday. “I support single-payer — but in this environment? In this environment?”
Added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a separate interview: “Single-payer will happen — if you’re talking in 10 or 20 years.”
“It would not be good to spend our time focusing on what happens a few years from now,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told me on Tuesday when I asked about single-payer. “We’ll have plenty of time to debate what bill we’ll craft once we get control back.”
As long as Obamacare is imperiled, Democrats want to resist an internal debate over where to go next. Sanders will be shielding them from that fight — at least for now.