Republicans try to bait Democrats on single-payer vote

A single-payer health care system may be the Holy Grail for many liberals, but a Republican plan to put Senate Democrats on the record voting for it isn’t going to get support even from Bernie Sanders.

Senate Republicans are trying to show that Democrats are just as divided over health care, so an amendment scheduled for a vote this afternoon proposing a completely government-run health care system isn’t a serious proposal — but designed to score political points against vulnerable red state Democrats.

It won’t get much, if any, Democratic support.

“I’m not going to support something that’s a sham, and that’s a sham,” Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said. “Not at the same time they’re planning to kick people off their health insurance. It’s a bait and switch.”

Still, the introduction of single-payer health care into a conversation about unwinding Obamacare offers an inflection point for Democrats who have long shied away from endorsing the universal coverage system. The reality is single-payer is gaining steam in the liberal base, and mainstream Democrats like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have taken up the cause in Congress. A majority of House Democrats support a “Medicare for All” bill in the House, which is the functional equivalent of a single-payer system.

Thursday’s amendment, though, isn’t going to be the moment for Democrats to throw down the gauntlet on single-payer.

Sanders, a Vermont independent who’s led the charge for single-payer, also vowed not to vote for the amendment from Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and is encouraging Democrats to also simply vote “present.”

“We don’t have legislation to amend, so how can you support an amendment when you don’t have legislation to amend?” he said.

Polling shows growing support among Democrats overall for a government-run health care system amid Republican efforts to tear down the 2010 Affordable Act. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll in June found 64 percent of Democrats backed a single-payer or national health plans, while the Pew Research Center that same month found a majority of Democrats support the idea for the first time in three years of polling.

Still, Democratic leaders have long resisted advocating for a massive expansion of the government’s role in health care, wary of alienating independent voters and hanging swing-state senators out to dry on what’s long been a divisive issue.

The party’s economic agenda released this week notably excluded single-payer, but Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the idea “is on the table” among other less divisive options for expanding government-sponsored coverage, such as allowing near retirees to buy into Medicare.

Senate Democrats face a tough electoral map in 2018, raising concerns that full-throated support for single-payer could bury the party deeper in the minority. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — both running for reelection next year — are among those who have expressed skepticism about a single-payer system.

If Republicans’ Obamacare repeal effort collapses, liberal activists are hoping to seize the moment to push for single-payer. But Tester dismissed the idea as “just talk” earlier this month.

“In this environment, that’s all it’ll be,” Tester said.

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