Senator Lindsey Graham — who is fast becoming the gravedigger of the Senate, with his last-ditch attempt to resurrect the Republicans’ zombie “repeal and replace” of Obamacare — is strangely framing his action as a bid to kill Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” bill, which is being sponsored by 19 Democratic senators.
Graham has boasted that his repeal legislation, co-sponsored by Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, is the best alternative to “Medicare for all,” saying “Hell no to Berniecare.”
“Bernie, this ends your dream,” he added.
The Republicans didn’t need Bernie Sanders – who, while putting “Medicare for all” on the long-term agenda, has been a relentless fighter for Obamacare – to encourage them to take one more whack at our health system. They’ve been talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act ever since it passed seven years ago, and have voted dozens of times to do so.
Why Blame Bernie?
Senate Republicans, egged on by President Trump’s desire to put a “win” on the board, whatever the cost, were determined to take one last shot before Sept. 30, after which they can no longer repeal Obamacare with only 50 votes. The Graham-Cassidy bill was in the works long before Bernie announced his bill.
And its fate depends on whether Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul and John McCain, the four Republican Senators who voted against the last attempt to repeal Obamacare, don’t flip. Does anyone seriously believe they will be thinking about Bernie Sanders in making that decision?
What’s more dismaying is that some moderate and corporate Democrats – who don’t want to see the private for-profit health insurers put out of business by “Medicare for all” – have jumped on Republicans’ talking point, agreeing that this last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare is Bernie’s fault.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, criticized Sanders to Politico, stating, “I thought that anyone who believed that you should take your eye off the ball before Sept. 30 wasn’t being smart.” Vox Media’s Ezra Klein, a long-time “liberal” opponent of “Medicare for all,” tweeted: “Never understood why Sanders didn’t wait till after the 9/30 reconciliation deadline to release his bill.”
In his recent interview with Hillary Clinton, Klein gave her plenty of opportunity to oppose “Medicare for all,” as she did during the Democratic primaries. It’s part of the narrative of struggle between corporatist Clintonites and the progressive, Warren/Sanders wing for the future soul of the Democratic Party: Blame Bernie Sanders not only for Trump’s victory over Clinton but for the harm Republicans bring.
A Closer Look
Yet if the Republicans tragically succeed in their last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, “Medicare for all” could become more likely in the long term.
If Obamacare, for all its flaws, remains in place, it’s unlikely that even with a future majority, Democrats would rush to replace Obamacare with “Medicare for all,” as opposed to making some tweaks around the edges.
If repeal passes, millions of Americans will lose health care. Those with pre-existing conditions would face unaffordable premiums. Insurance markets would be thrown into chaos. Twenty percent of the U.S. economy would be drastically disrupted. And people would die. Americans’ health care would be in far worse shape than before Obamacare passed.
Voters’ anger at this harm, done to millions of Americans, by the Republicans’ repeal of Obamacare might even propel Democrats to regain control of Congress in 2018 and/or 2020 and the presidency in 2020.
And given the looming health care crisis, it’s not likely that Democrats’ next move would be to reinstate Obamacare after it had been torn apart. In that event, the likelihood is that Democrats would at last join the rest of the industrialized world in the fight for true universal health care. Either incrementally or all at once, “Medicare for all” will become the default Democratic alternative.
As Jonathan Chait, a moderate Democratic commentator who has long opposed “Medicare for all,” recently wrote:
“If Republicans repealed Obamacare. It would make it easier for the left to argue that the program’s compromise structure is a failure, that its markets are inherently susceptible to sabotage by Republican administrations, and that the risk of political capital is worthwhile. And the method used to pass repeal — a hastily assembled reconciliation bill devoid of serious analysis — would make fools of the party’s Senate institutionalists. Democrats would be incentivized to pass a sweeping 50-vote Medicare expansion, with the goal of creating as many beneficiaries as possible, as quickly as possible.”
Be Careful What You Wish For
So Senator Graham, be careful what you wish for. If your dream comes true, and you succeed in your attempt to repeal Obamacare, you and your Republican colleagues will be held responsible millions of Americans losing their health care, and the deaths that will result from this. And in doing so, you may also end up bringing Bernie Sanders’ vision of ”Medicare for all” closer to reality.
And here’s my message to the resistance. Fight like hell to block Republicans’ zombie attempt to repeal Obamacare one last time. And then get to work in the movement for America to join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing universal health care through ”Medicare for all.”