Will any Democratic candidates run on single-payer in 2016?

A good question from Philip Klein. Bernie Sanders will challenge Hillary from the left if no one else does, but he’s no threat. Will any serious Democrats run on single-payer in 2016?


Single-payer advocates had argued that it would have been much more efficient if government simply paid for everybody’s health care instead of mandating people purchase private insurance and then funneling hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies to the insurers. They have been emboldened by the ongoing troubles of Obamacare…

If Obamacare is still a political problem when the primary debates begin in 2015, Democratic presidential candidates will find themselves at a crossroads.

They could either dig in and defend the law as is. They could attempt to blunt attacks from Republicans by introducing some modest changes to Obamacare. Or they could embrace an even more expansive role for government in response to criticism from the left.

Coincidentally, the Weekly Standard’s new interview with Democratic populist and former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer contains this tidbit:

He criticizes Obamacare from the left, blaming fellow Montanan Max Baucus (the chairman of the Senate committee responsible for drafting much of the law) for allowing special interests to influence the bill. “This bill, which was written by the insurance company and pharmaceutical lobbyists, doesn’t challenge the expenses,” Schweitzer tells me. “Why would it? If you’re in the business, and you get to write the bill, what are you going to do?”

His own national health care reform would “fit on the back of an envelope.” Explaining the whole thing takes him half an hour. (“Am I boring you yet?” he asks around minute 25.) At the center of his proposal is allowing citizens below the retirement age to enroll in Medicare, forcing private insurers to compete against the government rate.

“As you probably recall .  .  . most Democrats were calling for a public option. .  .  . But what came out of the Senate Finance Committee did not have a public option,” Schweitzer says, blaming health insurance lobbyists and their enablers in both parties. “We now have the corporate party and the corporate-lite party.”

Is there still an appetite among Democrats for single-payer or, as a half-measure, the public option? Go back to Gallup’s most recent poll on O-Care, which I blogged here 10 days ago. Gallup asked people if they want to see the law repealed, scaled back, kept as is, or expanded in mid-October, two weeks after Healthcare.gov had launched, and early December, after the website had crawled along for two months. Note the trend among Democrats — and independents:


In seven disastrous weeks, “expand” went from being the choice of fewer than a quarter of Democrats to the plurality favorite among them. Among independents, “expand” was the only option whose support increased from mid-October to December. And this happened while most of lefty media was in circle-the-wagons mode on O-Care, insisting that the program would work like a charm over time. What would happen if someone like Schweitzer got traction on the left and started pounding the table about a public option? Would millennials, having soured on O, ignore him, or would they revert to their left-wing leanings from 2008 and conclude that the real problem with big government in this case is that it’s not big enough? The worse things go for ObamaCare next year, the more liberals will abandon it as a political albatross that’s weighing them down and an ideological sellout that empowered insurance companies above consumers. They’re not protecting the program now because they want to. They’re doing it because they have to, to spare Obama, Reid, and Pelosi a searing humiliation. Once we’re past the midterms and 2016 campaigning begins in earnest, that calculus will change.

I think lefties will produce a progressive candidate who runs on “Medicare for all” even if they think he or she is a sure loser in the primary. Putting this issue front and center does two things for them: One, obviously, it puts pressure on Hillary to tack left on “fixing” ObamaCare, which means a public option at a minimum, and two, more importantly, it might help drag the Overton window back towards the center as O-Care struggles. Right now the only game in town politically for people who dislike the program is repeal courtesy of the GOP; if Democrats wait too long to push a more statist alternative, the debate could shift from “what should we do to repair the law?” to “which parts of the law should Obama agree to get rid of?”. It’s shifting that way right now, frankly. Getting 40 percent of the country onboard for the public option or single-payer could paralyze the argument over “solutions” to the point where the GOP would likely reduce its demands, which at least would protect O-Care. Even if only as a rhetorical device, they could argue that a Republican nominee in 2016 who opposes “Medicare for all” can’t be trusted to protect Medicare as it stands. I think all of this is a tough argument for lefties to make, needless to say, since the obvious lesson from President Bumblefark’s O-Care screw-ups isn’t “let’s give the government even more power.” But if ObamaCare proceeds as we all expect, it’ll be a lot easier than arguing that we should just leave the law alone.

Exit question: Has the government already taken over health care? Read this before you answer.

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