AOC: President Bernie probably can't deliver Medicare for All, you know

You don’t say. Actually, she does say it to HuffPost, even though Bernie Sanders claims just the opposite. “A president can’t wave a magic wand and pass any legislation they want,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says in dismissing chances for getting Medicare for All through Congress. It’s basically a bargaining chip to restore the public option to ObamaCare:

Ocasio-Cortez ― one of the most outspoken advocates for Medicare for All ― said she thought voters understood there was an “inherent check” on the president’s ability to actually change things like our health care system. And she argued that the realities of governing were actually an argument for someone like Sanders, as he’d be able to push Democrats and resulting changes further left.

But Ocasio-Cortez is also realistic about how far even a President Sanders could actually move Congress.

“The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option. Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so,” she said.

Ocasio-Cortez stressed that just getting a public option for health care wasn’t the left’s ultimate goal. But she also said she wasn’t here to railroad other members with differing viewpoints on health care ― she just thinks it helps to have a president who has a more ambitious platform than Congress so that Democrats could stretch what’s possible.

So … Bernie’s demanding an end to insurance coverage for more than 150 million Americans just to get back to 2009’s original ObamaCare structure? That doesn’t sound at all like what Sanders is saying on the road. If the public option is sufficient, then why not just get behind Joe Biden, who’s been arguing for that position all along? Sanders, AOC, and other allies ridiculed any structure that retained private insurance as a sellout.

For someone who’s selling The Revolution on the stump for Sanders, this sounds like a mighty big retreat by AOC on the central plank in his platform, and almost certainly an unauthorized walkback. Sanders has other issues in his platform, but Medicare for All is central to his agenda. His economic policies don’t work without it — well, they don’t work at all actually, but especially not without a complete switch to socialized medicine. Furthermore, Sanders has had plenty of opportunities to offer compromises, such as Pete Buttigieg’s idea (also promoted by others) of optional Medicare buy-ins. Sanders has steadfastly refused to water down his vision by a single inch.

Don’t be so sure that Sanders agrees with Ocasio-Cortez he can’t get his agenda through Congress, either. Axios reports this morning that Team Bernie plans to expand the reconciliation process in the Senate to turn Congress into a complete rubber stamp by having the vice-president usurp the parliamentarian:

The Sanders team knows the Senate will be a problem, thanks to (what’s left of) the filibuster. They’re planning to get around that by using budget reconciliation rules to pass most of his major plans — channeling progressive Democrats’ frustrations over the Senate’s track record of killing big plans.

Those rules can allow proposals to be passed with just a majority vote, but only under strict conditions. Anything that doesn’t have an impact on spending or revenues can be knocked out, and some problems can’t be fixed, as Democrats found when they used it to finish passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Sanders plans to get around that problem by directing his vice president to rule that Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and other big proposals can be passed that way — overruling any procedural challenges that might come up.

Can that be done? It’s how Harry Reid got the final version of ObamaCare through the Senate after Ted Kennedy’s death ended his filibuster-proof supermajority. It’s also how Republicans passed their big tax-cut package two-plus years ago. It can be done with a united Senate majority caucus, but that may be the rub for President Bernie:

  • That would be an extreme challenge given that virtually all of his most ambitious proposal have divided Democrats on the campaign trail and would be sure to divide them in the Senate.
  • Even if he managed to do that, there would be fallout within the Senate from repeated use of the vice president’s powers to overrule any procedural objections — and not just among the senators.
  • The vice president would have to repeatedly overrule the Senate parliamentarian, a non-political officer whose job is to interpret the rules. If that happens again and again, the parliamentarian could just step aside and stop offering advice on the next procedural challenges — basically telling the vice president: You’re on your own.

In both of the previous two cases, reconciliation got pushed by Senate majority leaders, not the vice president, on policies that united their caucuses. Will Senate Democrats go all-in for Bernie’s socialist agenda? Probably not, but this possibility might make for a very good election argument … from Republican candidates and incumbents in Senate races.