Editor’s Note: The article’s text has been changed to further clarify the author’s stance on the inevitability of a single-payer health care system. Other statements have also been altered for clarification.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are pushing a last-ditch effort to override the Affordable Care Act, seeking to fulfill their party’s promise to “repeal and replace” the landmark legislation once and for all. The measure, which cuts health care funds, repeals the individual mandate and provides a loophole to insurers who don’t want to cover pre-existing conditions, is virtually dead in the water if it does not pass by the end of next week, when reconciliation rules will push the necessary vote threshold from 51 to 60. Republicans currently hold 52 seats in the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence able to cast a tie-breaking vote.
This is a pivotal moment for the future of health care in the United States. In a moment of political stupidity, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent liberal icon from Vermont, may have just given Republicans their greatest reason to pass the Graham-Cassidy proposal.
Last week, Sanders introduced a bill for a nationalized, single-payer health care system, a measure to which a slew of potential Democratic presidential nominees have lent their support. At the time, I wrote about the ultimate inevitability of such a system coming to bear in the United States; I stand by that belief, at least in the long term. However, Sanders would have done well to forestall his push for single-payer until after the GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare were beyond repair. That won’t take much longer — as mentioned before, the end of September is, in effect, the hard deadline for a partisan repeal.
Now, however, many Republican senators are using Sanders’ “medicare for all” bill as a rallying cry to pass Graham-Cassidy. On Monday night, CNN will host a town hall-style debate between the two proposals. This is a boon to the Republican Party’s goals. Pitting the contest as a binary choice between the costly single-payer system and the relatively easy-to-accomplish, if disastrous in consequence, Graham-Cassidy bill only boosts the ACA repeal effort, which is otherwise vastly unpopular. The GOP is setting up Graham-Cassidy as the final exit ramp available before an impending, Democratic-led nationalization of the health care system, a state of affairs anathema to Republicans’ small-government mantra.
Sanders could have easily waited until October to begin his single-payer campaign. By introducing it at the worst possible time, he may have instead given his political opponents the exact ammo they need to make sure nationalized health care remains a far-distant dream. ■