GOP Proposes, Then Immediately Rejects Plan For Single-Payer Health Insurance

Since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly decried it as “socialized” or “government-run” healthcare while calling for its repeal. But it was a GOP senator who today introduced legislation that, if passed, would have provided single-payer, government-run Medicare for everyone.

In fact, the amendment proposed by Sen. Steve Daines of Montana was entitled the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act, and would have made all American citizens and residents eligible for government-sponsored Medicare.

Yet, neither Daines nor any of his fellow Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of the amendment, which was ultimately defeated on a 57-0 vote. No Democrats supported the amendment, even though the concept of single-payer care is becoming increasingly popular among Democratic voters. Some voted “no” while others voted “present,” indicating that they may support the underlying idea of the bill but can’t vote for it.

So why did this GOP Senator who has repeatedly voted in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act put forth this amendment only to vote against it?

On Twitter yesterday, Daines noted that this amendment was all about getting senators on the record about whether or not they support single-payer health insurance:

Presumably, the target of Daines’ amendment are Democratic senators in states that went for President Trump in 206. That could include Daines’ fellow Montanan Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who will come up for reelection in 2020. Tester is one of the few Democrats — along with Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) — who actively voted “no” on the amendment. Sen. Angus King of Maine, who is technically an independent though he caucuses with the Democrats, also voted “no.”

Conversely, if progressive Democrats vote against the bill they could have to answer to their constituents for why they failed to voice their support for single-payer when they had the chance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, generally seen as one of the more progressive members in the Senate, said this morning that Daines’ amendment is a “sham” and that he wouldn’t vote for it unless Daines himself did.

“If he is prepared to vote for this legislation and if he can get maybe five or six more Republicans… we can finally join the rest of the industrialized world,” with single-payer insurance, said Sanders. “But if Senator Daines is just playing political tricks and does not intend” to support his own amendment, “I would suggest that every member vote ‘present’ on this amendment.”

New Mexico’s Sen. Tom Udall pointed out that there are state legislatures where lawmakers are not allowed to introduce legislation they have no intention of supporting.

Daines did not write the bill he proposed. In fact, it is actually a cut-and-paste of the language from HR 676, a bill introduced in the House by Rep. John Conyers (MI) in January. More than 100 members of the House, all Democrats, have co-sponsored the bill.

“Who on the Senate side supports this bill?” asked Daines before today’s vote. “Let me be clear, I believe socialized medicine would be a disaster for the American people. Last November, American people voted to ‘make America great again,’ not ‘make America England again.'”

A recent study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that support for single-payer is growing in the U.S., with 33% of the country now in favor of this approach. That’s up from 28% just since the beginning of the year, and a significant increase on the 21% support measured by the same survey in 2014.

Even among Republican respondents, the notion of single-payer is not universally despised. Among people who identified as moderate Republicans, 20% now support universal, government-provided insurance.

A majority of Republicans also support continuing the existing Medicaid and Medicare programs, with 64% of self-identified conservative Americans favoring these programs — even though the GOP bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would make significant, long-lasting cuts to Medicaid.

(Updated to reflect the list of Democratic senators who voted “no.” A previous version mistakenly listed Sen. Nelson as a “no,” when in fact he voted “present.”)

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