WASHINGTON (AP) - Cheered on by a handful of activists, liberal House Democrats announced outside the Capitol that they were forming a caucus to push for “Medicare for All” - shorthand for government-financed health care.
At the same time Thursday, Democratic senators were introducing a resolution aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive about Trump administration efforts to undermine former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Neither proposal has much chance of going anywhere in the Republican-run House or Senate. But the bigger problem for Democrats is that the two messages - fundamentally reshaping the nation’s health care system versus defending Obama’s popular law - divide the party as it tries wresting control of Congress in this fall’s elections.
All Democrats oppose President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to scuttle Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and many have backed expanding government-paid health care, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. But many also think drawing campaign-season attention to Democratic efforts to reinvent the country’s $3 trillion-a-year health care system, a costly and complex undertaking, is a mistake.
Promoting “Medicare for All” opens the door for Republicans to accuse Democrats of plotting tax increases, unaffordable federal costs and the loss of employer-provided coverage, these Democrats argue. They say it’s better to play offense by focusing on controlling medical costs and opposing GOP efforts to demolish the 2010 health care law.
“Every Democrat is being asked, ‘Do you support this or do you not?’ and it’s becoming a political wedge in an election year,” Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said of the “Medicare for All” drive. “And I think we should be focusing on the terrible things that are happening under this administration right now.”
The new caucus has more than 60 members, nearly 1-in-3 House Democrats, including many from safely blue districts where liberal voters prevail. Backing “Medicare for All” lets them tap into activists’ fervor for universal health care that helped propel Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to an unexpectedly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
“If you live in America, you’ve got a right to affordable quality health care, period,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a caucus founder, prompting applause from supporters watching her group’s news conference Thursday.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., another leader, later said she backs a 2017 House bill providing free health care financed partly by boosting taxes on wealthy Americans. That bill has more than 120 Democratic co-sponsors. But she said her group’s goal is to build consensus for legislation it may introduce next year, with decisions remaining about costs, financing and other questions....A similar bill by Sanders last year drew 16 Democratic co-sponsors, including at least four potential 2020 presidential contenders. Sponsors haven’t released price tags, but Sanders said a version he promoted during his 2016 campaign would have cost $1.4 trillion annually - a figure some analysts said was far too low.“The only proposal